Sandra Reed’s Life Care Planning: Percentage of obese seniors is rising — does weight matter at this age?

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Maybe you thought that now that you qualify for senior discounts, you could quit worrying about your saturated fat intake or the number of servings of vegetables you eat each day. Wrong.

The Huffington Post reports that a recent study by the National Institute of Health shows that the risk of death in the obese rises with age. The study compared the survival rate of persons with a normal or overweight Body Mass Index (BMI) to those in various grades of obesity.

Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology and socio-medical studies states: “This study should put to rest the notion that it’s possible to ‘age out’ of obesity risk, and provides a powerful counterfactual against those who say concern over obesity is overhyped.”

Obesity Is Deadly

The results are staggering. The increase in mortality rate at age 65-plus breaks down as follows:

Grade 1 Obesity (BMI 30.0 to 34.9)=40 to 60 percent

Grade 2 Obesity (BMI 35.0 to 39.9) =80 to 100 percent for men and 90 to 100 percent for women

Grade 3 Obesity (BMI over 40) = 160 to 260 percent for men and 160 to 180 percent for women

It makes sense that obese seniors are likely to die earlier than they otherwise would with normal weight because the clinical effects of obesity on a person’s health are huge. The heart has to work harder to pump blood in those overweight and this can lead to serious heart diseases. In addition, obese seniors exhibit higher incidences of high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, cancers, osteoarthritis, depression, incontinence, elevated cholesterol and hypertension.

Obesity Affects the Brain

According to HealthDay News, researchers have found that mental performance is affected negatively by obesity.  Persons aged 60 to 70 who have a high BMI have been shown to have reduced memory and thinking skills.

Obesity Decreases Mobility

Obesity heightens the chances of forming disabilities related to the lower body. A Purdue University study in 2010 found that adults who are obese are likely to have to resort to walkers, canes and other mobility devices at a younger age. The disability created by obesity sets up a vicious cycle, according to Kenneth F. Ferraro, a co-author of the study.

Many times the elderly obese find themselves functionally limited which in turn decreases their ability to perform physical activity. With restricted physical activity, they burn fewer calories, leading to additional weight gain.

 Obesity Costs Billions

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that merely keeping obesity rates at all ages from rising could save the country $550 billion in medical costs.

Federal Money Fighting Obesity

Governmental researchers have found from 1988 to 1994, 22 percent of those over 65 were obese; from 2009 to 2010 that figure had risen to 38 percent. Yet, according to some reports, around $1.9 billion of federal money is going into obesity studies related to seniors, or less than half that going into the Michelle Obama program to reduce obesity in children 8 to 18 years of age whose obesity rate is only 17 percent. These reports, in my opinion, should not be used to argue for less spent on children but rather for an increase in that spent on programs for seniors.

Causes of Obesity in Seniors

The same causes of obesity for other age groups can cause obesity in older adults. Diet, lack of exercise and heredity are certainly factors for everyone. Additionally, decreased metabolism, hormonal changes, lack of sleep and depression are contributing factors, especially for those over 65.

Solutions to Obesity

So we know the problem. Now what’s to be done?

The solution has been laid out ad nauseam. Here it is once again from News Medical : “The key to success [of avoiding or overcoming obesity] is to achieve an energy balance between the calories consumed and calories used up.”

Right. Sounds like “buy low and sell high” to me, that old adage that has gotten me nowhere in the stock market.

The devil is in the details – another worn out expression.

WEAPON NO. 1 in seniors’ fight against obesity is to EAT RIGHT.  That means making healthy choices. Order grilled, not fried.  Put on blinders that block out all the fast food restaurants you pass headed to the grocery store. At the store, bypass all the processed food and buy fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats and whole grains.

Seniors must let go of the idea that eating healthy is too expensive. Most studies that compare the cost of fast food and healthy choices calculate the cost per calorie. Since the obese are consuming more calories than they need, experts argue this is an inappropriate way to measure the cost of food.

Suppose a retired couple over 65 is concerned about their food budget but wants to eat right. Consider this: If they were to eat a burger, fries, Coke combo at a franchise restaurant for every lunch and dinner of a 30-day month, they would spend approximately $600 on those two meals alone.

That same $600 could  buy a month’s worth of food for all meals and snacks, their paper products, cleaning supplies and even a moderate amount of wine and beer, if they shop prudently. And, if they limit their purchases of processed foods, their budget can accommodate all the buy fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats and whole grains they need to eat healthy.

WEAPON NO. 2 in seniors’ fight against obesity is to MOVE. That means your body, not your location. New Medical’s definition  of physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.

And how seniors move is not important. Nor does it take money to move. Daily activities and chores –carrying groceries, wood, books or children, climbing stairs, vacuuming, mopping, washing windows, gardening — use calories. Walking, one of the most highly recommended forms of physical activity, is free.

Those who need the discipline of organized exercise can join walking or riding clubs, exercise groups or health clubs. Some insurance policies are offering free or reduced-price health club memberships as a preventative medical benefit.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney practicing in Glen Rose.  She is of counsel with the Elder Law firm of Katten & Benson in Fort Worth.  If you have any questions, you may contact her by phone at 254-797-0211 or by email at

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