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Extra Pounds in Mid-Life Affect Later Mobility

Seniors who lose weight still at risk from previous obesity

THURSDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Seniors who were overweight or obese earlier in life are at increased risk for physical disabilities, even if they've shed the excess weight they had when they were younger, says a new U.S. study.

"In both men and women, being overweight or obese put them at greater risk of developing mobility limitations in old age, and the longer they had been overweight or obese, the greater the risk," lead investigator Denise Houston, an expert on aging and nutrition and an assistant professor of gerontology at the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said in a center news release.

"We also found that, if you were of normal weight in old age but had previously been overweight or obese, you were at greater risk for mobility limitations," she added.

Houston noted that weight loss later in life is usually caused by an underlying chronic condition.

The study included 2,845 participants who were an average of 74 years old when they were enrolled. They had no mobility problems at the start of the study. During seven years of follow-up, women who were overweight or obese (body mass index of 25 or greater) from their mid-20s to their 70s were nearly three times more likely to develop mobility problems than women who were normal weight throughout their lives. Overweight or obese men were 1.6 times more likely to develop mobility problems.

The researchers also found that women who were obese (BMI of 30 or greater) at age 50, but not in their 70s, were 2.7 times more likely to develop mobility limitations than women who weren't obese throughout their lives. Men with a similar weight history were 1.8 times more likely to develop mobility problems.

The study is in the April 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Excess weight can put stress on joints, make exercise difficult, and lead to chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease -- all of which are directly related to the development of mobility problems, Houston said.

More information

The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about walking problems in seniors.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, April 7, 2009

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