How Does Obesity Affect the Elderly?


February 5, 2023

How Does Obesity Affect the Elderly?

Did you know most organs and body systems are negatively affected by obesity? Obesity increases the risk of many destructive and “silent” deadly diseases, including:

  • Diabetes – A group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood (high blood glucose).
  • Hypertension – A condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high.
  • High Cholesterol – High cholesterol can limit blood flow, increasing risk of heart attack or stroke. 
  • Heart Disease – Heart conditions that include diseased vessels, structural problems, and blood clots.

In addition, obesity increases the risk of at least 13 different cancers:
post-menopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney (renal cell) cancer, endometrial cancer, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, liver cancer, ovarian cancer, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, gastric cardia (upper stomach) cancer, gallbladder cancer, and meningioma.

While not all cases of these cancers can be attributed to being overweight, excess body weight is a key modifiable risk factor and is thought to contribute to 8% of all cancer cases, second only to tobacco use in preventable causes of cancer.

As we age, physical disability is also a major problem because of the effect of weight on joints. Overweight older people also find it harder to move around and in extreme cases can not conduct the necessary activities of daily living (ADLs) such as preparing meals, shopping for groceries, and even bathing. 

Obesity also affects cognition, which includes the way we process information, memory, comprehension, problem solving, and decisions. These functions deteriorate with age and studies show that they deteriorate more rapidly in the population affected by obesity. Since proper cognition helps the elderly live fuller and more independent lives, this effect of obesity is more relevant than ever with older age.

Obesity has also been clearly linked to a lesser quality of life. This becomes even more relevant for the elderly who are already hindered by multiple predicaments that decrease their quality of life. Obesity. Obesity only adds to their burden.

Body Mass Index Chart

How is Obesity Defined?

Obesity occurs when persons take more calories than are burned by exercise and is commonly measured by a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI). 

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by their height. A high BMI can indicate high body fatness. BMI screens for weight categories that may lead to health problems, but it does not diagnose the body fatness or health of an individual.

Calculate your Body Mass Index here:

How Can Can The Elderly Lose Weight Safely?

Excess weight requires lifelong management. Weight issues are progressive as we age, and frequently excess weight returns. Obesity is a chronic condition that places your health at risk, however, there are various options for managing and treating excess weight. The guidelines are not really different whether weight-loss concerns younger or older adults.

First, lifestyle changes are advised, including diet and exercise. In practice, not only calorie restriction but paying close attention to diet composition and an adequate amount of protein in the diet is recommended by many experts. This should always be done under the supervision of experienced physicians to ensure that no harm is done.

Also, to counteract muscle loss due to aging, the American College of Sport Medicine guidelines recommend resistance training with muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week. In addition flexibility and balance exercises may be helpful in those at risk for falls. Keep in mind any exercise regimen needs to be prescribed by a physician to ensure patient safety. In addition, older adults are commonly taking multiple medications. When possible, physicians should substitute medications that cause weight gain with alternatives.

Weight-loss medication choices are more limited in older adults. However, there are several which have been (or soon will be) approved by the FDA for the treatment of obesity and/or diabetes, including: semaglutide (Wegovy, Ozempic, Rybelsus), and trizepatide (Mounjaro).

Bariatric surgery is being increasingly considered in older adults as well. The existing medical problems, surgical risk, and benefits from the surgery need to be closely analyzed by the medical team and discussed with the patient to ensure an optimal decision and a satisfactory outcome.

Texas Obesity Fact Sheet

Source:, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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