Rates of obesity, as well as risky health factors associated with obesity, increase with age. But is weight loss safe for people over 65? Under medical supervision, the answer is yes.
A recent study tested whether a supervised weight loss and exercise program was safe for older, obese women. Results showed that compared to middle-aged women, older women were able to maintain the same amount of weight loss while also reaping the benefit of lower blood pressure.
Healthcare professionals constantly monitored women's diet, exercise and health, and no women in the older group showed higher risk for injury compared to the middle-aged group.
Lauren M. Rossen, PhD, from the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville and the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maryland, led an investigation into weight loss treatment for older women.
Obesity rates among women aged 60 to 79 in the United States have recently been calculated at 42 percent. Obesity is a serious health risk, especially as people age.
“A key issue in the treatment of obesity in older adults is whether the health benefits of weight loss outweigh the potential risks with respect to musculoskeletal injury,” the authors wrote.
For the study, 162 obese women aged 50 to 59 and 56 women aged 65 to 74 participated in an initial once-a-week lifestyle intervention weigh loss program for six months, followed by 12 months of biweekly check-ins. Obesity was defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. BMI is a calculation of a person’s weight and height.
Each participant was monitored for weight loss and blood pressure. Participants also had blood drawn to test for cholesterol and blood sugar throughout the program. During the initial six-month weight loss program, healthcare professionals were able to help participants increase their exercise and decrease their calorie intake to promote weight loss.
After the first six months, the women lost an average of 21 pounds. After 18 months, the women had maintained an average of 17 pounds of the initial weight loss.
Both age groups lost and maintained about the same amount of weight. The older group showed better improvements in blood pressure after weight loss than the younger group of women.
“Despite potential safety concerns, we found that older women were no more likely to experience musculoskeletal adverse events during the intervention as compared with their middle-aged counterparts,” the authors concluded.
The authors recommended that further studies look into muscular strength, physical functioning and injury risk for weight loss in obese, older adults. They also recommended research looking into the safest ways for older, obese women to exercise.
This study was published in February in Clinical Interventions in Aging.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the University of Florida provided funding for the research and publication of this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.