While obesity is known as the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, a new study finds that obesity may actually be beneficial in older adults.
Obesity generally cuts life expectancy by six to seven years, but the latest research shows that this trend may “reverse itself” after the age of 85, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Aging Research.
Professor Jiska Cohen-Mansfield of Tel Aviv University found that excess fat decreased the risk of death, and obese people in this age group tended to live longer than those of normal weight.
The study consisted of 1,349 participants between the ages of 75 to 94 who had been asked questions about their height and weight, age, gender, family, education, socioeconomic status, and smoking history. Twenty years after participants had completed the questionnaire, the researchers completed a mortality analysis on the participants.
Researchers found that over the course of two decades, 95 percent of the participants had died, and only 59 participants were still living.
Cohen-Mansfield said that while obesity continued to predict premature death for those between the ages of 75 and 84, obese participants past the age of 85 were less likely to die compared to participants were underweight or at normal weight.
Researchers explained that the factors that used to affect mortality in younger people may no longer apply in older people. The researchers found that older heavier people are less likely to develop osteoporosis, which would reduce the number of falls and subsequent injury. Another reason may be that obesity could provide extra energy resources in times of trauma or stress, or lengthen the time of weight loss caused by a decrease in appetite, which is a common occurrence as people near death.
Investigators also speculated that there could also be a “selective survival” rate at play. They explained that obese people often die early in life because of obesity-related illnesses, so those people who survived could be simply just be more resilient, which is the same for other factors like smoking.
Researchers warned that obesity only seemed to have a ‘protective effect” on mortality, and did not seem to improve quality of life.
"Though obese people over the age of 85 may be less at risk of death, they may suffer more from obesity-related illnesses," Cohen-Mansfield said in a news release. "There are other factors to consider, such as pain, multiple ailments, and mobility."