THURSDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- Medical experts have long
known that obesity can take years off your life, but a new Israeli
study suggests that if you're lucky enough to reach your mid-80s,
carrying some extra pounds might actually help you live longer.
The study, by Tel Aviv University researchers, revealed that
while obesity did increase the risk of dying for people in their
70s and early 80s, when people lived longer than that those who
were obese had a slightly lower risk of death than their
underweight or normal-weight peers.
The main message of the study is that "very old age has
different rules, and just because something is true for most ages
does not necessarily mean it is true above age 85, which is not an
unusual age for older persons," said study co-author Jiska
Cohen-Mansfield, director of the Herczeg Institute on Aging at Tel
"It may be that as one gets older, the protective effects of obesity become more pronounced," the authors wrote. For instance, heavier people are known to have lower rates of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis and therefore have a lower risk of falls and injuries.
"Obesity may also provide energy reserves in times of stress, illness and trauma. In addition, obesity may prolong the period of pre-death weight loss, as aging is associated with decreased food intake," they wrote.
But Cohen-Mansfield cautioned that the findings don't mean that
people in their mid-80s who aren't overweight should try to fatten
up in order to live longer. "That is a question for a separate
study," she said. "We did not examine changes in weight during the
lifetime and their impact. It is possible that gaining some weight
may be desirable and it may not make a difference, or it may have
What's more, a key limitation of the study is that it only
examined mortality, Cohen-Mansfield said, "and other indicators of
well-being may be more important."
For the study, recently published in the
Journal of Aging Research, the authors used data from about 1,350 Jewish people between the ages of 75 and 94 who were part of a national survey conducted between 1989 and 1992. Twenty years after the data was collected, the researchers followed up to see who had died. Over the course of the two decades, all but 59 participants died.
One geriatrics expert in the United States was fairly
circumspect about the findings. "There are far too many unanswered
questions to make any definite conclusions about weight and death
in very old adults," said Dr. Evelyn Granieri, director of the
division of geriatrics at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/The Allen
Hospital in New York City.
"The investigators only saw the people in the study once, then looked 20 years later to see when, but not how, they died," noted Granieri. "They did not do a medical history or examination or evaluate any of the subjects' medical conditions or their medications. They did not determine if the weight the people had was new or if it was their usual weight. It may have been that the thin people were sick and their being thin was a result of chronic or acute illness."
Granieri said people who are 85 or older should not feel
compelled to change their weight. "You have been successful at
reaching an age that the majority of people will not attain, so
whatever the other factors that may have allowed you to reach that
age, most likely, any change in weight will not change your
mortality," she said.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has tips on
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