Appreciation for a pioneer in elder weight theory

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
There's something comforting about an expert on aging living to 89.

I'm not saying that gerontologist Reubin Andres, who died Sept. 23, had all the answers, or that we should see him as the sole test case of proving his theories. But his longevity helps.

While Andres was well-known for devising a glucose insulin clamp and became the first clinical director of the National Institute on Aging, he also was a proponent of modest weight gain with age.

Those long-term care administrators trying to find room in their budgets for more bariatric beds may be horrified by the idea. But to be clear: Andres wasn't advocating obesity, but rather starting life slender and then adding on was the way to go.

He based his recommendation by looking at those who lived the longest via Metropolitan Life data. As the New York Times reports, Andres “determined that Metropolitan Life's weight recommendations were too high for the early years and too low for later years. Among other things, he observed that the group with the smallest percentages of deaths, or ‘minimum mortality,' was 10 to 20 percent over the recommended weights and increased with age.”

The theory is that a little bit of cushion can prevent injury and disease, partially because the elderly tend to lose muscle and mass as they age.

For many of us, it's not exactly a challenge to put on weight as we get older. Andres' theory remains controversial. We know that those who are obese and over 65 should continue with diet and exercise, and that it may reduce their frailty. While there's still a lot to be discovered with how aging and weight are tied together, I love the idea that if Andres is proven universally correct, an entire industry would have to be rescaled, pun intended. I also could envision centuries of Jewish and Italian mothers looking down, waving their cooking spoons in the air and saying, “I TOLD you so.”

In the meantime, perhaps what we can take away from Andres' life and work is that while exercise and diet have their place in our lives and work with residents, there may be something to having a embracing a well-rounded life that includes being more round.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.