Weight loss in adults aged 70 years and older is associated with a 10% increase in mortality, a new study has found. The results highlight the importance of monitoring older patients — particularly men — who present with weight loss in the clinical setting, the researchers say.

The study involved an analysis of data from the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) randomized clinical trial. Investigators recruited more than 18,000 participants from Australia and the United States in 2014. Participants did not have cardiovascular disease, dementia, physical disability or life-limiting chronic illness. Data analysis was performed in 2022.

Weight loss and mortality

Among the participants, 1,256 deaths were observed over an average period of 4.4 years. Weight loss was associated with all-cause mortality and an increase in all major causes of death, including cancer and cardiovascular disease in an initially healthy population. These results persisted even after adjustment for age, frailty status, baseline body mass index, country of birth, smoking, hypertension, diabetes and hospitalization in the previous 24 months. 

“Adjustment for recent hospitalization is important because hospitalization is often followed by weight loss due to acute conditions,” the researchers noted.

A decrease in waist circumference also was associated with higher mortality.

Percentage risk

Among men, loss of 5% to 10% of body weight and loss of more than 10% of body weight were linked to a 33% and 289% increase in mortality respectively, when compared to men with stable weight. Among women, a relative loss of 5% to 10% of body weight and loss of more than 10% of body weight were associated with a 26% and 114% increase in mortality, respectively.

Reduced appetite

One key factor appeared to be the culprit behind the change in body size observed in the study, the researchers reported.

“In this age group, weight loss was largely associated with a reduction of appetite, leading to reduced food intake,” they explained. 

There are a variety of circulating theories that may explain why appetite may be suppressed in the early stages of chronic illness, the authors noted. But the key takeaway from the results is that “physicians should be aware of the significance of weight loss, especially among older men,” they concluded.

Full findings were published in JAMA Network Open, Geriatrics.

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