Weight Loss and Weakness, Not Obesity, Linked to Higher Risk of Death Among the Elderly

Shedding pounds off may not be a good idea if you’re losing too much muscle


Obesity, a chronic disease, is a complex disorder characterized by having too much body fat. Unfortunately, more people, including elderly, are overweight or obese. More than one-third – 34.9 percent or 78.6 million – of adults in the country are obese, according to the Journal of American Medicine, and there is no indication of the trend changing.

Weight loss is recommended to improve overall fitness and wellbeing because the condition increases the risk of several serious health problems—heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, to name a few.

New research, however, suggests that simply losing weight may not be the best treatment. Weight loss and weakness, not obesity, predict negative outcomes in the elderly, according to new research.

Aging is generally accompanied by weight loss made up of both fat mass and fat-free mass. This process among the elderly is associated with increased risk of illness and death, particularly when the weight loss is followed by reduced muscle mass and strength, a condition referred to as age-related “sarcopenia.” This decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults, according to research.

Both men and women who were, on average, 66 years old at the beginning of the study eight years ago were observed. Between 2004 and 2005, baseline information was collected regarding handgrip strength, body weight, and height. During the follow-up, participant deaths were recorded using the national health registry. Statistical techniques were then used to investigate whether baseline measures of muscle strength and obesity predicted risk of death during the study.

During the course of the study, 906 of the participants died. When body weight (adjusted for height) was considered by itself, being either excessively thin or obese was found to be related to increased risk of death.

Handgrip strength was negatively correlated with risk of death. The strongest people were the least likely to die—regardless of their body weight. People who lost weight during the study were also the most likely to die; this was especially true for individuals who also lost handgrip strength.

Related stories:

Why You Exercise But Don’t Lose Weight

15 Reasons You Gained Weight that Have Nothing to Do with Food

30 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism After 30