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December 2004 Issue

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Elderly Obesity to Grow Nearly 50 Percent

Published December 2004

An analysis led by a UC researcher calculates that the number of obese adults over the age of 60 will rise from 14.6 million in 2000 to 20.9 million in 2010--an increase of 43 percent.

"This trend is likely to have important effects on the health, quality of life and cost of care of older adults," the authors write. "The greater number of obese individuals will likely further threaten the economic viability of the health care financing and delivery system for the elderly."

The elderly already account for over a third of all health care spending in the U.S. It is estimated that lifetime medical costs for obese men and women are 42 to 56 percent greater than for people with a normal body weight.

The analysis, led by David Arterburn, MD, MPH, of UC's Institute for Health Policy and Health Services Research, appears in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"This 43 percent increase in obese adults over 60 is significantly higher than the estimated population in-crease--approximately 23 percent--for that age group between 2000 and 2010," says Dr.Arterburn.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health Examination Survey I and four consecutive National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which assessed the nation's health from 1960 to 2000. Their results were compared with the goals of Healthy People 2010, a prevention agenda of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"We found that the numbers of obese elderly individuals in the U.S. will continue to increase substantially until at least the year 2010," says Dr. Arterburn. "Our estimates fall dramatically short of the goals set by Healthy People 2010."

Dr. Arterburn's research forecasts that between now and 2010, roughly 400,000 new, obese Medicare-eligible elders will be added each year. Obesity in the elderly is clearly as-sociated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, lipid abnormalities, osteoarthritis and some cancers.

Studies have shown associations between obesity and poorer health in the elderly, including worse physical functioning. Since physical function is closely linked to the need for more intensive assistance, a greater proportion of elderly Americans in the year 2010 may require long-term care, home health assistance and personal equipment such as lifts and scooters.

"Given current trends in the U.S., the problem of obesity in the elderly will continue to escalate unless public health efforts to promote weight loss among middle-aged adults are very successful," says Dr. Arterburn. "There is also a clear need for new research on drugs and lifestyle changes that safely reduce body weight in the elderly."

The research was supported by grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Health Administration and the Health Services Research and Development Service.

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