Age is ‘no barrier’ to losing weight and making lifestyle changes, study shows

COVENTRY, United Kingdom — There are plenty of things that can become more difficult to do as we get older. Losing weight isn’t one of those things, according to researchers at the University of Warwick. Their study finds obese patients over the age of 60 are just as capable of shedding excess pounds as younger people.

Study authors say their results reveal aging doesn’t create a barrier to making lifestyle changes and completing weight loss programs. In fact, the research finds older adults actually lost a higher percentage of body weight than obese people under 60 years-old.

“Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older we’re more likely to develop the weight-related co-morbidities of obesity. Many of these are similar to the effects of aging, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace,” lead author Dr. Thomas Barber of Warwick Medical School says in a university release.

There’s no age limit on getting help with weight loss

The study selected 242 patients from an obesity service program at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (WISDEM) between 2005 and 2016. Researchers separated the patients into two groups: those younger than 60 and those between 60 and 78 years-old.

The participants had their body weight checked before and after they made lifestyle changes as part of the WISDEM-based service. Study authors also calculated the percentage of body weight each person dropped during the program. When comparing the two groups, older obese patients lost 7.3 percent of their body weight while patients under 60 lost only 6.9 percent.

Additionally, older participants spent less time on the program on average (33.6 months) than younger obese patients (41.5 months). The hospital-based weight loss program focused on making lifestyle-based adjustments specifically for each person. Those changes include a new diet, psychological support, and continued encouragement to stay physically active.

Excess weight can lead to a growing list of problems

Most of the patients recommended to the service fall into the category of morbidly obese and had a Body Mass Index over 40Kgm-2. Researchers say these patients are at high risk for developing more than 50 conditions tied to obesity, including diabetes, depression, anxiety, osteoarthritis, and heart disease.

“There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people. These include an ‘ageist’ perspective that weight-loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise. Older people may feel that hospital-based obesity services are not for them. Service providers and policymakers should appreciate the importance of weight loss in older people with obesity, for the maintenance of health and wellbeing, and the facilitation of healthy ageing. Furthermore, age per se should not contribute towards clinical decisions regarding the implementation of lifestyle management of older people,” Dr. Barber adds.

“Age should be no barrier to lifestyle management of obesity. Rather than putting up barriers to older people accessing weight loss programs, we should be proactively facilitating that process. To do otherwise would risk further and unnecessary neglect of older people through societal ageist misconceptions.”

The study appears in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.

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