- Researchers say people with obesity in middle age face more serious health effects and higher medical costs when they’re older.
- They add the people who have overweight but not obesity in middle age live about as long as people of moderate weight, but they tend to have more lifestyle limitations.
- Experts say it’s never too late for people to begin managing their weight.
People with obesity in midlife have higher healthcare costs and die younger than people who have “normal” body mass index (BMI) scores, a new study reports.
Researchers reported that people with overweight have higher healthcare and economic costs later in life — what they called the “cumulative burden of morbidity.”
They added that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to need treatment for coronary heart disease, heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and heart failure than people who had normal BMI scores in middle age.
Cumulative median healthcare costs among participants with overweight were $12,390 more than those with normal BMIs. Researchers also estimated that costs were $23,396 higher among those with obesity.
The mean age of death for people with obesity was 80 years old, compared with 82 years of age for those who had normal midlife BMI scores.
However, the death rate was not significantly different for people considered overweight but not obese. Their longevity was about the same as those with normal BMIs.
The study focused on disease burden, longevity, and healthcare expenditures in adults 65 years and older who had overweight and obesity around age 40.
The study was based on an analysis of participants in the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry.
Participants were originally examined between November 1967 and January 1973 and then got follow-up exams between January 1985 and December 2015.
Only participants ages 65 or older at the follow-up point and enrolled in Medicare were included in the study.
BMIs between 18 and 25 were classified as “normal.” BMIs of 25 to 30 were classified as overweight, and BMIs of 30 or more were classified as obesity.
On the surface, the findings are not new.
Many other studies have linked obesity with poor health outcomes, and some have also found that cardiovascular fitness may offset some of the health effects associated with having overweight — the so-called “obesity paradox.”
However, Dr. Sadiya S. Khan, a study author and an assistant professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois, told Healthline the new research “moves beyond mortality or death and adds evidence regarding morbidity and disease burden in older adulthood.”
“This really speaks to quality of life, which we describe as ‘health span,’” she noted.
Khan stressed that while people with overweight didn’t seem to lose any years of life compared with people with moderate weight, the study still found they experienced significant health problems.
“With optimal treatment, it is possible that people [who are] overweight live longer with disease and this weight affects health span without life span,” she said. “Changes to diet and exercise are important beyond weight and can improve healthy life years. This is not just about dying young, but about enjoying life as you age.”
Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, agrees with Khan’s assessment.
“The earlier a person corrects bad eating and lifestyle habits, the more likely they are to correct the negative effects of obesity. Once organ damage starts occurring due to obesity, the effects are harder to reverse,” Ali told Healthline.
Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, a senior dietitian at the University of California, Los Angeles’ medical center and an assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, said people who have overweight or obesity should take action sooner rather than later.
“It’s never too late to acquire healthier eating habits, such as more plant-forward or plant-based eating that puts whole foods, as nature grew them, in your body ahead of less-healthy processed and animal-based foods,” Hunnes told Healthline.
“It’s also never too late to begin an exercise/fitness program that would improve cardiovascular health with approval from your physician,” added Hunnes, who is also author of the new book “Recipe for Survival.”