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Obesity and Older Adults

According to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues, today's older adults face a double whammy when it comes to body fat. //

Up until age 80, older adults not only gain fat as they age - but because of the obesity epidemic - they actually begin their older years fatter.

The result is an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and disability, according to Jingzhong Ding, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and a researcher on aging at Wake Forest Baptist.

The study, reported in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focuses on changes in body composition related to aging and in the population over time. It is significant because the researchers used DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) to measure actual body fat to determine the proportion of fat versus lean mass (muscle and organs).

The measurements were made on 1,786 well-functioning older adults from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn., from 1997 to 2003. Participants were 70-79 at the time of enrollment, a critical period for the development of disability. Body composition -- especially the combination of too much body fat and a decrease in muscle -- is believed to contribute to disability.

"This study provides a better picture of age-related changes in body composition and it's not a good picture," said Ding, an assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine. "It demonstrates that up until age 80, both older men and women gained fat but lost lean mass each year. These age-related changes were compounded by the obesity epidemic."

In addition to measuring the effects of aging on body composition, the researchers also looked at the effects of the obesity epidemic, which most scientists agree began in the late 1970s. Between 1976-80 and 1999-2000, the rate of obesity doubled in older adults.

The scientists divided participants into 10 g
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