Obesity epidemic spreads to over-50s

Almost four out of five people aged 50 and older are overweight or obese.

The finding is published in a new report released today by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA).

The national study, led by Trinity College Dublin, also found that a similar proportion of the over-50s group had an ‘increased’ or ‘substantially increased’ waist circumference.

This means that just one-fifth of over-50s have a normal BMI or waist circumference.

Over 8,000 people aged 50 and over were included in the study, which highlights the consequences of high rates of obesity and health service demands for this age group.

A higher proportion of men and women with a substantially increased waist circumference (central obesity) had a doctor’s diagnosis of at least one cardiovascular disease, compared to those with a normal waistline.

High blood pressure is diagnosed in twice as many older adults with central obesity compared to those with a normal waist circumference. Diabetes was over four times more common in the centrally obese group.

Obesity is also associated with a greater prevalence of arthritis, asthma, chronic pain and decreased physical function, particularly in women.

The prevalence of arthritis among obese women is 44%, compared with 25% of women with a normal weight.

The report also highlights the serious burden that these levels of obesity are placing on Ireland’s health services.

Obese, older adults visit their GP more frequently, take more medications, and a higher proportion use five or more medications than those of normal weight.

A Safefood study published in 2012 estimated that obesity cost the economy of the Republic of Ireland €1.3bn through increased health services use, work absenteeism and premature mortality.

TILDA research fellow and lead report author, Dr Siobhán Leahy, said the study highlights the combined impact of the obesity crisis and a rapidly ageing population on health and health service demand.

The finding that obesity leads to significantly higher use of health services is a cause for concern, according to Dr Anne Nolan, TILDA research director and co-author of the report.

“A greater focus on health promotion and prevention is required to not only improve population health and well-being, but ensure the future sustainability of our health system,” she said.

Fat stats

- Based on body mass index (BMI) measurements, 36% of Irish over-50s are obese and a further 43% are overweight.

-Based on waist circumference measurements, 52% of Irish over-50s are “centrally obese” — have a “substantially increased” waist circumference, while a further 25% have an “increased” waist circumference.

-Using BMI as an indicator of obesity, a higher proportion of men (38%) are obese than women (33%); however, using waist circumference as an indicator of obesity, a higher proportion of women (56%) have a “substantially increased” waist circumference than men (48%).

-The prevalence of obesity in Irish men over 50 is comparable with US men over 50 (while English rates are much lower).

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