Again and again we hear about the dangers of obesity. By now, you probably know the statistics by heart; over one third of Americans are considered obese, making the United States the second fattest country in the world. Unfortunately, we were just dethroned by Mexico and now have to settle for number two.[i] And yet Americans are also living longer than ever. So what gives? We know that obesity can cause heart disease diabetes, sleep apnea and even strokes. How it is possible that our health is getting worse, but we are living longer?
The answer is technology. Bypass surgery can provide a new lease on life for those with clogged arteries and drugs can help control high blood pressure and cholesterol. Lifestyle related disease that would have killed us decades ago can now be controlled and treated without actually having to change our health habits. Is that actually good news though? Does relying on a daily regime of pills to maintain your body’s homeostasis translate into quality of life? A quick look at the health of our population of people 65 and over can answer that question.
Unfortunately, seniors have not escaped this obesity epidemic and the health consequences for those over the age of 65 can be especially catastrophic. Over 34% of seniors are classified as obese and that number reaches 40% when you look at those between the ages of 65-74. While there is no significant relationship between weight and how long people live, there is a big difference when it comes to the number of disease free and fully mobile years people are able to enjoy.[ii]
The real issue is that obesity doesn’t exist in isolation; it causes and exacerbates a variety of other health problems including:
- Heart disease and stroke: Heart disease is the causes of 1 in every 4 deaths and 715,000 people have a heart attack every year.[iii]
- Joint problems including osteoarthritis: The math is simple. More weight means more pressure on your body and joints. Unfortunately, the more aches people suffer from, the less motivated they are to get out and moving creating a vicious cycle.
- Cancer: Not only are those with a higher body mass more likely to get all forms of cancer, they have lower survival rates.[iv]
- Diabetes: 10.9 million people over the age of 65 have type II diabetes. That comes to nearly 27% of this demographic. If not managed correctly, diabetes can cause blindness, high blood pressure, and require amputation.[v]
- Sleep apnea: Those with too much weight pressing down on their chest will actually stop breathing in their sleep. Not only is this a scary prospect, it also causes an interruption in sleep patterns that can leave you feeling tired during the day.
- Depression: The link between depression and obesity is a controversial one, but the evidence does show that when obesity leads to mobility challenges it can also be tied to depression.
The other concern is that obesity is starting to occur at younger ages, causing more severe health problems earlier in life. This trend has some predicting that Americans will actually start losing ground in the coming years when it comes to longevity. Currently, our progress has already slowed as compared to other developed nations.[vi]
This has implications that go beyond individual health problems. Inevitably, a nation of overweight children and adults results in greater health costs to everyone. In fact, “the estimated annual cost of treating obesity in the U.S. adult non-institutionalized population is $168.4 billion or 16.5% of national spending on medical care.”[vii] Currently, those over 65 years if age with a high body mass index will spend an average of $39,000 more on healthcare every year.
The result is not only higher healthcare costs, but a diminished quality of life that is full of medical problems that compound one another. As we all know by now, the answer is simple diet and exercise. Stay tuned for more tips on how to lose weight and be more active.
[i] “Mexico Beats U.S. to be World’s Fattest Country – But We’re Still a Close Second.” The New York Post, 9 July 2013. Web. 1 August 2013.
[ii] Lakdawalla, Darius N., Dana P. Goldman and Baoping Shang. “The Health and Cost of Consequences of Obesity among the Elderly.” Health Affairs, 2005. Web. 9 August 2013.
[iii] “Heart Disease Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 9 March 2013. Web. 19 August 2013.
[iv] DeFendis, John. “Obesity Can Lead to Severe Health Problems. 27 January 2013. Web. 8 August 19 2013.
[v] “Diabetes Statistics.” American Diabetes Association. 26 January 2011. Web. 19 August 2013.
[vi] “Long Live the Fat American.” The Economist, 30 June 2011. Web. 6 August 2013.
[vii] “The Medical Care Costs of Obesity: An Instrumental Variables Approach.” The National Bureau of Economic Research,” 6 August 2013. Web. 6 August 2013.