Addressing Obesity among Aging Patients
— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
As advancements in technology and medical care continue to proliferate and Baby Boomers’ transition to their next decade of life, the population category experiencing the greatest growth is among individuals over 85 years old. Despite improvements to health care, however, everyone experiences a gradual decrease in their physical and mental states as they age, which increases the risk of disease and accidents. Obesity contributes to this risk, and with 30 percent of the population in the United States over the age of 65 having obesity. Addressing the needs of this group will continue to be a challenge.
Obesity increases not only the risk for illness and death, but also quality of life. Even among those who are metabolically healthy, obesity accelerates the progress of other areas of decline. It increases the likelihood of disability and functional impairment which is seen most frequently in the deterioration of activities of daily living. This can result in a patient losing the ability to administer self-care. It also increases the likelihood of a loss of independence — the greatest fear related to aging held by seniors. Weight loss through lifestyle modification, exercise and caloric restriction helps with physical conditions and also reduces symptoms of depression.
The Effect of a Very Low Calorie Diet in Older Adults
Because age and weight contribute to multiple health risks, weight loss must be closely monitored. For older adults especially, physical activity is critical to minimize further reduction to lean muscle mass or bone mineral density. Programs adapted to individual needs and capabilities that combine a reduced calorie diet, aerobic exercise for weight loss and strength training exercises to minimize muscle and bone loss muscle are most effective. Specifically, there is strong support for following a program that features a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD). Consider the following research:
- A study comparing outcomes among people with obesity that were over 64 years old and assigned to one of three groups (healthy eating, hypocaloric diet or a VLCD, all with an exercise component) found improvements across groups. However, the VLCD group experienced the greatest decrease in weight, waist circumference, fat mass and android fat, and also the highest increase in lean mass as a percentage of body mass. The VLCD group also had “significant improvements in all measured nutritional parameters,” whereas there was no change in the healthy eating group and an increase in folates only in the hypocaloric group.1
- Another study on older adults with obesity that used the same groupings similarly found the greatest degree of significant improvement in the VLCD group, including HbA1c, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and systolic blood pressure. Further, the significant weight loss experienced by the VLCD participants led to improved cardiovascular risk markers despite a reduction in medications.2
- A study of women with obesity between the ages of 60 and 75 years following a VLCD or low fat diet found the VLCD group had a threefold greater fat loss in visceral adipose tissue and significantly greater thigh skeletal muscle. They also experienced improved insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles.3
A weight loss program that combines physical activity with a VLCD offers significant medical benefits to older patients with obesity. This can lead to an improved metabolic profile, enhanced physical and mental well-being, and greater independence. Clearly, it is vital to increase awareness of issues that affect older adults, including a discussion on weight management options like New Direction.
- Very Low Calorie Diets for Weight Loss in Obese Older Adults – A Randomized Trial
- Obesity in Older Adults: Effect of Degree of Weight Loss on Cardiovascular Markers and Medications
- Effects of Weight Loss During a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet on Specific Adipose Tissue Depots and Insulin Sensitivity in Older Adults with Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.