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Utah Attorney Greg Bishop Discusses the Growing Problem of Obesity Among Older Adults

Originally published on amolife.com

Houston has a problem. Actually, it's not just in Houston – it's everywhere. Sadly, despite decades of awareness, the obesity epidemic that began to snowball in the early 1980s shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the problem is getting bigger – much bigger. 

 Because body fat is difficult to measure directly, it is often estimated by using a formula known as the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a value determined by your height and weight (you can calculate your own BMI here). According to the Obesity Action Coalition, there are five weight categories based on BMI:

  • Underweight: BMI of 18.5 or less
  • Healthy Weight: BMI between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI between 25.0 and 29.9
  • Obese: BMI between 30.0 and 39.9
  • Severely (or Morbidly) Obese: BMI of 40.0 or more

In 1985, no state in the country had more than 15% of its citizens who were categorized as obese or severely obese. By 2015-2016, however, nearly 40% of adults (20 years of age and older) in every state were obese or severely obese. More troubling is that the prevalence of obesity gets higher as people get older – it is greater than 40% in adults between 40 to 59 years old, and higher still in those over 60.

As gloomy as that may sound, researchers predict that the problem is about to get worse. According to a December 2019 study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, by 2030, nearly half of the entire U.S. population will be obese. Even more concerning, they also project that almost 25% of Americans will be severely obese. They calculate that by 2030, severe obesity will be the leading BMI category among women, non-Hispanic blacks, and low-income adults.

The Price of Obesity

According to a 2013 study, obesity accounts for approximately 18% of all deaths among Americans ages 45 to 80. In context, obesity is a public health hazard comparable to smoking, which kills approximately 20% of Americans and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Apart from this staggering death toll, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the medical care costs associated with obesity were a staggering $147 billion in 2008, with an additional $3.4 billion in lost productivity costs.  

Health Consequences of Obesity

In addition to the economic costs, the CDC warns that those who are obese are at an increased risk for many diseases and health conditions (compared to their healthy-weight counterparts), including:

  • All causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Many types of cancers (including breast, liver, pancreas, endometrial, colorectal, prostate and kidney)
  • Osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Respiratory problems
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Urinary stress incontinence
  • Infertility
  • Mental illnesses, including clinical depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical disability
  • Social isolation

The Impact of Obesity on Older Adults

Utah attorney Greg Bishop warns that older adults are at an even higher risk of suffering both health and economic consequences from being obese or severely obese. First, older adults often lead more sedentary lives than when they were younger, which can decrease their metabolism and contribute to additional weight gains. Second, because older adults often live on fixed incomes, they are less able to purchase healthy foods, which unfortunately are usually more expensive. Finally, older adults are prone to do what they have always done in terms of their diet and exercise, which, while sub-optimal during their younger years, can become dangerously problematic as they age.  

Regrettably, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to reducing body fat – it's a very personal battle. What is clear, however, is that (statistically speaking) the tide of being overweight is decidedly against older adults. But the health and economic consequences of being overweight are sufficiently grave that they warrant a very deliberate approach to improve our diets and increase our levels of physical activity for the balance of our lives.

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