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  • Losing weight after the age of 50 doubles the risk of dying after the age of 65

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Tuesday, August 10, 2004 11:20 am Email this article
    Significant weight loss after age 50 is correlated with a higher risk of death after age of 65 in both men and women according a 1998 study.

    Furthermore, being overweight was not associated with increased mortality.

    Researchers from the University of Washington and several other institutions studied 4,317 nonsmoking adults who were between 65- and 100-years-old. None were wheelchair-bound or undergoing cancer treatment.

    The researchers recorded the participants’ weight at the beginning of the study as well as their weight (based on their recollection) at age 50.

    They also collected information on recent weight loss, smoking history, history of disorders such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and other data.

    Then they recorded all deaths in the study group over a five-year period, and analyzed the relationship between mortality and body mass index (BMI).

    The thinnest women (BMI less than 20) had a significantly higher death rate than women in all other categories, even after results were adjusted for age and the presence of various diseases.

    For men, there was no significant relationship between BMI and mortality.

    Being overweight does not increase risk of death in elderly

    Thus, among elderly people of both sexes, the study found no evidence that being overweight increased the risk of death.

    However, recent, unintended weight loss was a definite risk factor.

    Unintentional weight loss increases risk of death in elderly: 33% for men, 16% for women

    People who had unintentionally lost 10 or more pounds in the year before entering the study had high death rates during the five year study: 33 percent for men, 16 percent for women.

    It seems that unintentional weight loss is likely due to underlying disease.

    Intentional weight loss does not increase the risk of death

    Death rates were not elevated among people who had intentionally lost weight in the previous year, nor among those who had gained weight or stayed the same.

    Weight loss after 50, intentional or not, increase the risk of death after 65 by a factor of two

    But the most striking finding was the correlation of significant weight loss after age 50, whether intentional or not, with higher death rates after age 65.

    Of men who reported having lost 10 percent or more of their body weight since age 50, 30 percent died during the study period.

    Among women with this degree of weight loss, 16 percent died.

    Those death rates were about twice as high as the rates seen among people whose weight had remained stable.

    Losing weight makes sense for people with certain conditions - diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis - but it may not be advisable for all overweight seniors, the authors concluded.

    “What we really should be thinking about is fitness and function, rather than obsessing about weight,” University of Washington biostatics professor Paula Diehr said in an interview.

    The conclusion that being overweight does not increase the risk of death on people over 65 is similar to a new study.

    Comment: Much of intentional weight loss may be unintentional

    Considering that most people would like to “lose a few pounds”, if not a lot more than that, and considering how difficult it is to lose weight, I imagine that a lot of what people say is intentional weight loss is really unintentional.

    It is human nature to lame others when things go wrong—“It wasn’t might fault.”—and to claim responsibility for things that are seen as a success.

    I believe this is true of weight loss and weight gain.

    When people gain weight or fail to lose weight, they often blame their circumstances or blame other people—“I was too busy at work.” “I was on vacation.” “My dog died.” “My wife didn’t support me.”

    But when people lose weight, regardless of whether or not it was intentional or not, they want to believe that “Yes, I lost those 30 pounds intentionally.”

    I imagine that when people unintentionally lose weight, due to sickness, disease, stress or depression, they often welcome the weight loss, and later claim, or even convince themselves, that they were responsible for this weight loss. In other words, they claim that it was intentional even when it was not.

    Therefore, I think the results of this study shoulld be considered with that in mind, that is that much of the increased risk of death in people who lost a significant amount of weight may have been due to underlying sickness, disease, stress or depression, that may not be recognized in this and other studies.


    Diehr P, Bild D, Harris T, Duxbury A, Siscovick D, Rossi M. Body mass index and mortality in nonsmoking older adults: the cardiovascular health study. Am J Public Health. 1998 Apr, 88(4):623-29.


    P Diehr
    Department of Biostatistics
    University of Washington
    Seattle, WA 98195, USA.

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