WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Carrying extra weight earlier in life increases the risk of developing problems with mobility in old age, even if the weight is eventually lost, according to new research out of the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging and the Wake Forest University Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, appears in the April 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
"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," said lead investigator Denise Houston, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of gerontology at the School of Medicine and an expert on aging and nutrition. "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."
Houston added that dropping weight later in life can lead to problems with mobility because weight loss later in life is usually involuntary and the result of an underlying chronic condition.
The study is based on data collected in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study, which enrolled Medicare recipients in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn., between April 1997 and June 1998. Participants had to be well-functioning, living in the community, and free of life-threatening illness.
The researchers defined mobility limitation as difficulty walking a quarter-mile or climbing 10 steps. They analyzed information from 2,845 participants who were on average 74 years old. Participants reported no problems with mobility at the beginning of the study. Information on new mobility limitations was collected every six months over seven years of follow-up.
Using participants' body mass index (BMI), a measurement equal to a person's weight
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center