CHICAGO Obesity and arthritis that take root during early and middle age significantly contribute to women's decreased quality of life during their senior years, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center.
In a study that included 5,888 people over 65, women suffered up to two and a half times more disabilities than men of the same age.
Higher rates of obesity and arthritis among these women explained up to 48 percent of the gender gap in disability above all other common chronic health conditions.
"While women tend to live longer than men, this study shows that they are at greater risk of living with disability and much of the excess disability is attributable to higher rates of obesity and arthritis," said Heather Whitson, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and lead investigator of the study presented today at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Geriatrics Society. "This is important because it suggests that women's tendency to pack on extra pounds in their child-bearing and peri-menopausal years translates into loss of independence in their old age."
Researchers said the study is the first to isolate the impact of specific chronic health conditions on the difference in disability rates between older men and women. While many people are studying how chronic conditions affect mortality, the investigators were surprised to see the extent to which these conditions explained the gender difference in disability.
"The reason for this discrepancy in disability has not been well understood but we found that chronic health conditions that women experience in greater numbers than men may explain part of that gap," said Harvey Jay Cohen, M.D., the study's senior author, chair of the Department of Medicine and director of Duke's Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development.
"Women have a natural tendency to gain more weight than men over the lifespan, but may be more motiva
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Duke University Medical Center