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Obesity, weight gain linked to poor physical function in mid-adulthood

28 Jul 2019

Obesity at any age in adulthood doubles the risk of having poor physical functioning (PF) in midlife, with body mass index (BMI) gains over much of the life course and prolonged exposure to obesity contributing to the risk, according to a study.

Researchers examined a birth cohort of 8,674 individuals, calculating BMI at several time points (from 7 to 50 years of age). They evaluated PF at age 50 years using the validated PF subscale of the short-form 36 survey.

Mean BMI increased with age in the study cohort. The prevalence of obesity was low during childhood (eg, 1.8 percent in males at age 7 years) but increased by mid-adulthood (eg, 25.3 percent in males at age 45 years). More than half of individuals with poor PF (58 percent) reported that they were ‘limited a lot’ in terms of their ability to bend, kneel or stoop; 44 percent indicated that they had a hard time lifting or carrying groceries; and 27 percent found it difficult to bathe or dress themselves.

Logistic regression analysis showed no association between birthweight and PF. On the other hand, obesity vs normal weight at any age was linked to a higher likelihood of having poor PF (eg, obesity at age 23 years: odds ratios [ORs], 2.28, 95 percent CI 1.34–3.91 in males and 2.67, 1.72–4.14 in females).

The odds of having poor PF in midlife increased with BMI gains (OR per standard deviation [SD] of BMI gain over 16–23 years, 1.28, 1.13–1.46; OR per SD of BMI gain over 45–50 years, 1.36, 1.11–1.65) and with prolonged duration of exposure to obesity (childhood onset: OR, 2.32, 1.26–4.29; mid-adulthood onset: OR, 1.50, 1.16–1.96; p-trend<0.001).

The present data reinforce the importance of preventing or delaying the onset of obesity to mitigate the risk of poor PF in midlife, especially since mid-adulthood is an important life-stage at which prevention of poor PF could potentially alleviate adverse health outcomes including premature death, the researchers pointed out.

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