Obesity indeed increases seniors' risk of death, will be long-standing issue for LTC providers: study

Share this content:

Obesity does not decrease seniors' risk of death, according to a new study that calls into question previous findings. The new study also suggests that long-term care providers will see an increasing number of obese residents in the coming decades.

The research team was led by Ryan Masters, Ph.D., a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. The team analyzed National Health Interview Survey data and mortality records in the National Death Index from 1986-2006.

In that 20-year period, obesity was associated with more than 18% of premature deaths of white and black Americans aged 40-85, the researchers found. Prior studies put that number at just 5%. 

Prior studies also indicated that obesity is associated with a decreased mortality risk in seniors. However, the so-called “obesity paradox” is based on studies that did not account for seniors living in nursing homes, assisted living communities or other facilities, Masters told the Los Angeles Times. He said his own research shows that mortality increases sharply as obese people age.

Obesity rates may be declining among young people, but Masters and his team said that a significant portion of the population is already obese and is likely to stay that way throughout their lives.

“It stands to reason that we won't see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old," said study co-author Bruce Link, Ph.D.

The study was published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.