The country’s obesity crisis is affecting the elderly with a major new study finding that one third of grandparents are obese and more than 42% are overweight — with clear links between their weight and contracting cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The Lifeways Cross-Generational Cohorts Study has tracked the lives of three generations of 632 families since 2001, initially via a randomly selected sample of 1,124 expectant mothers at a maternity hospital in the west of the country and the Coombe in Dublin.
In a paper published in the Irish Medical Journal, researchers have tracked the health of 1,244 grandparents aged 37 to 90 within those families, with indications older people are just as prone to the ill-effects of an “obesogenic environment” (tending to cause obesity) as younger generations.
The study assesses the relationship between body mass index and adult chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers and found 42.4% of grandparents were overweight and 32.1% obese.
It also found “a strong linear association” with both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and no significant associations with cancers.
It said results were similar for waist circumference and that the data “confirms other recent Irish cross-sectional reports on adiposity and adult chronic diseases, highlighting the need for effective health promotion interventions in older adults”.
Almost 36% of those categorised as being overweight had type 2 diabetes and 57.3% of those categorised as being obese had DM2, while 43,5% of those who were overweight had cardiovascular disease and 35.7% of those who were obese had CVD.
The link between obesity and diabetes was most pronounced among obese older women, with 65.2% of obese grandmothers in the study having diabetes. They were also the highest risk group when it came to the link between large waist circumference and diabetes.
The study, entitled A Prospective Analysis of the Relationship Between Chronic Diseases and Adiposity in Older Adults, was conducted by seven academics in the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science at in University College Dublin.
One of the authors, Prof Cecily Kelleher, said: “These data confirm the importance of the problem of overweight and obesity and that it does translate into these conditions.”
She said all older people tend to gain weight but that everyone in Ireland has been exposed to a changing food supply and an obesogenic environment in recent decades.
She said it was never too late for people to make positive changes to their diet and exercise regime. She indicated the maternal grandmother appears to extend most influence when it comes to eating habits across the generations.
The information in the study was gathered through three and 10 year follow-ups by accessing GPs and periodic questionnaires.
It found that measurements of central adiposity, or obesity, showed 52% of the grandparents had a waist circumference in the ‘high risk’ and 28.3% in the ‘increased risk’ category. More grandparents who were overweight when they were diagnosed with diabetes or cardiovascular disease than those who were not.
“Compared to normal weight grandparents, overweight grandparents had a 3.5 times higher risk of being diagnosed with Dm2; this was even ten-fold for obese grandparents,” it said.
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