Obesity in the Elderly Population

Dr. Christie LI - Council Member, HKOS

Obesity in elderly is an emerging global health issue. According to recent data, one third or more of U.S. adults aged 60 years and older have body weights in the obese range. Body composition changes with aging. There is an increase in fat mass and a decrease in muscle mass. Even without body weight changes, the amount of fat significantly increase with age. Body fat distribution also changes with age with decreases in subcutaneous fat and increase in visceral fat. The loss of muscle mass that occurs with aging is a process called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is associated with
increased disability and functional decline as well as an increase in morbidity and mortality. Obesity and aging are independent risk factors for metabolic dysfunction, such as cardiovascular diseases, hyperlipidemia, impaired glucose intolerance, as a result the obese older person is especially vulnerable to such metabolic diseases. Moreover, physical limitations in obese elderly would create a cycle of inactivity, further weight again and functional deterioration.

Management of geriatric obesity is relatively controversial especially for the groups of obese elderly with risk factors for malnutrition, including institutionalization, healing challenges due to hospitalization and mental or physical disabilities. Interdisciplinary efforts are needed to identify effective treatment for the vulnerable obese older adults.

With the establishment of the Hong Kong Obesity Society, we could facilitate multidisciplinary inputs in management of the obese elderly and increase the public awareness on this issue.