While weight loss often is the best answer to obesity, reducing chronic disease risk, and promoting health in other populations, when it comes to older adults, it’s not that cut-and-dried. Weight loss can lead to additional lean muscle loss and decreased physical strength. Though losing weight certainly can benefit older adults who are obese or overweight, experts say it must be done safely and methodically.
There are several factors that contribute to obesity in the aging population. Some individuals always have been overweight or obese and have simply carried those extra pounds into their older years, but a key reason some individuals become overweight or obese as they age is the decrease of their caloric needs and physical activity. (Decreased activity which reduces growth hormones and testosterone levels, poor nutrition, medications, hypothyroid disorders, and lowers metabolic rates). Some additional factors that can cause weight gain and contribute to obesity in older adults.
While it may seem as though dramatic weight loss is the best answer for obesity, when it comes to older adults, weight loss can produce negative effects that must be taken into consideration. With aging in general, we have [significant] muscle loss—the condition of sarcopenia—and obesity can complicate that. They’re carrying around greater weight and don’t have much muscle, so the older obese population is at a higher risk for falls and frailty already. The controversy with weight loss is that the individual also may lose additional muscle mass. You already have muscle loss from aging, and when you couple that with muscle loss from weight loss, it can significantly affect functional status and bone density.