By staff reporter
A disturbing report from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), a national study of over 8,000 people aged 50 and over in Ireland led by Trinity College Dublin, shows nearly four out of five adults over the age of 50 are overweight or obese.
Based on body mass index (BMI) measurements, it found that 36% of Irish over 50s are obese and a further 43% are overweight. Based on waist circumference measurements, 52% of Irish over 50s are ‘centrally obese’ (i.e. with a ‘substantially increased’ waist circumference), while a further 25% have an ‘increased’ waist circumference.
Using BMI as an indicator of obesity, a higher proportion of men (38%) are obese than women (33%); however, using waist circumference as an indicator of obesity, a higher proportion of women (56%) have a ‘substantially increased’ waist circumference than men (48%).
The prevalence of obesity in Irish men over 50 is comparable with US men over 50 (English rates are much lower), while obesity in Irish women over 50 is lower than among comparable women in the US, and broadly similar to older English women.
There is a much stronger relationship between obesity and socioeconomic status for Irish women than men; for example, 39% of women in the lowest quintile of wealth are obese, in comparison to 24% of women in the highest wealth quintile.
Speaking about the findings, Dr Siobhan Leahy, TILDA Research Fellow and lead author of the report said: “TILDA is the first study to look specifically at obesity in the over 50s in Ireland. Our findings show not only worryingly high levels of obesity but also the impact of these levels on health and everyday activity among the over 50s in Ireland. The proportion of over 50s in Ireland who are overweight or obese is significantly higher than that of the general adult population in Ireland.
“While this age group is already more likely to be affected by age-related illness, frailty and cardiovascular disease, these conditions are exacerbated by the presence of obesity and significantly higher levels of disease and disability are evident in obese individuals. Our study highlights the combined impact of the obesity crisis and a rapidly ageing population on health and health service demand.”
As well as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and risk factors, obesity is associated with a greater prevalence of arthritis, asthma, chronic pain and decreased physical function, particularly in women. The prevalence of arthritis among obese women is 44%, compared with 25% of women with a normal weight.
The report also highlights the serious burden that these levels of obesity and overweight are placing on Ireland’s health services. Obese older adults visit their GP more frequently, take more medications, and a higher proportion report polypharmacy (i.e., concurrent use of five or more medications) than normal weight individuals.
Dr Anne Nolan, TILDA Research Director and co-author of the report said: “At a time when the Irish health service is faced with the challenge of delivering services with fewer resources, the finding that obesity is associated with a significantly higher use of health services is a cause for concern. A greater focus on health promotion and prevention is required to not only improve population health and well-being, but also to ensure the future sustainability of our health system.”