Diet & Weight

Weight change & dying in older adults


Many thanks to Casie for this week’s paper. It is about weight change and mortality in older adults (Ref 1). The article concluded that weight loss is associated with an increase in mortality. Casie sent me an email saying, “As a woman about to turn 70 who has lost 3 stone and kept it off for the past three years, I find this sort of article worrying.”

I have personal experience of weight and health in older age. My mother developed appendicitis in her late 70s. Never one to complain, she was in excruciating pain before she finally gave in to the inevitable and called a doctor. Thankfully the GP had known mum for decades and knew for her to be describing pain as 9 out of 10, things were serious. By the time mum was rushed into surgery, her appendicitis had burst and attached, in part, to her bowel. The surgery was thankfully successful, but any doctors who looked back at her notes thereafter commented “you shouldn’t really be here should you?!

Mum was carrying about 20lb of extra weight at the time of the incident. She lost most of that in the during and after of the acute illness. Since she had weight to lose, this was not a problem. Indeed, she was quite pleased about it. Had she been of normal weight, her weight loss would have added a serious complication to an already serious condition. It made me realise that ‘having something to fall back on’ is valuable at life threatening times.

A 2005 study supports the notion that having some excess weight can be life extending. The study was by Flegal et al and it was called “Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity” (Ref 2).

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