A Diet After All
Older people who are struggling with excess weight or obesity are often pressurized by family and friends to take up diets resulting in intentional weight loss. However, a recent study has revealed that weight loss among the elderly may not necessarily prolong their lifespan. Never the less, the researchers who published their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also noted that there is no apparent harm in weight reduction either.
Weight loss among older citizens has traditionally been a cause of concern as it is often a symptom of an age related disease. As such, drastic and unintentional loss if weight generally results in further testing and diagnosis of ailments. At the same time, slimming down can actually be helpful to those struggling with weight issues as it improved their mobility, and also reduces the degree of pain among osteoarthritis patients. Hence, the researchers sought to identify the differences in the impact of intentional and unintentional weight loss of the health of the elderly and their implication on the diagnosis of illnesses.
The study, which took place over a span of twelve years, was conducted by Stephen Kritchevsky of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A study group of 585 elderly people who were either overweight or obese were selected for the study and were split into two near equal groups. While one group was given a diet to follow which reduced their intake of salt, the other consisted of people who following a stringent weight loss program with counselling. While the first group had lost only two pounds on an average, the second group saw a drastic weight reduction of nearly ten pounds.
Twelve years on, when most of the participants would be nearing 80 years in age, the researched checked the national death records to discover how many of them had died. The study revealed that the mortality rate among those who had participated in a weight loss program, as well as those who had reduced salt intake, was the same, with nearly 50 deaths having occurred in each group. Other influencing factors such as race, age and habits such as smoking, and their impact life expectancy also remain unchanged among both the groups. As such, Kritchevsky deduced that undertaking initiatives aimed at intentional weight loss among the elderly did not have an impact on their longevity.
However, when the results of the study on men were analyzed separate from women, it was noted that men who had intentionally lost weight had a lower mortality rate than those who had not reduced their weight. This phenomenon has baffled the researchers who could not identify the cause of this alteration and agreed that a more in-depth, large scale study was required into the subject. Kritchevsky and his team conclude that “if an older person is overweight or obese and has weight-related health conditions, they should not be concerned that losing weight would be bad for them,” .
Although the researchers have taken a lot of time to study the impact of weight loss on the elderly, it seems that the objective of their study was very vague and diluted. As a result, the findings do not present anything novel, unique and unheard of. As Kritchevsky himself describes it, the study is “a reassuring message that weight loss is potentially beneficial regardless of your age, if you're overweight or obese” . However, the benefit of weight loss to the elderly obese has been known for quite some time. It can also be considered to be a matter of common sense as it is obvious that the mobility and other health benefits of weight loss to younger obese people will more or less apply to older people as well.
Kirtchevsky introduced his findings by noting that studies such as Villareal et al have revealed that weight loss has a positive impact on the coronary condition, pain in osteoarthritis, mobility, as well as the overall well being of the elderly. As such, although the researchers have taken a lot of pain to arrive at the same conclusion, it may have been more useful if their efforts had been more focused towards the identification of the differences on the impact of intentional and unintentional weight loss among the elderly and possible methods of effective diagnosis.
Despite the findings of this study, the medical community at large may still remain vary of recommending drastic weight loss measures for older obese people as this may result in misdiagnosis of ailments that may or may not exist. As such, Kritchevsky and team could have laid more focus on this aspect of weight loss among the elderly rather than measuring its impact on their mortality. The study does provide some useful information, but could have been much more if it provided breakthrough insights.
Kritchevsky, S. B., Shea, M. K., Nicklas, B. J., Houston, D. K., Miller, M. E., Davis, C. C., et al. (2011). The effect of intentional weight loss on all-cause mortality in older adults: results of a randomized controlled weight-loss trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 94, 839-846.
Villareal, D., Miller, B. I., Banks, M., Fontana, L., Sinacore, D., & Klein, S. (2006). Effect of lifestyle intervention on metabolic coronary heart disease risk factors in obese older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 84, 1317-1323.