The rate of obesity among the senior population is increasing. According to Statista, almost 30 percent of Americans 65 years old and above were already obese in 2020. In 2016, the rate was only 27.5 percent.
The consequences of obesity don’t change with age. Carrying an excessive amount of fat can increase the risk of chronic diseases. However, it is particularly harmful to older people, whose age already makes them prone to conditions like diabetes or heart disorders.
Seniors can better manage their weight with professional help, especially when they already have issues with mobility. Assisted-living facilities can offer services like nutrition counseling, diet-specific meals, and physical and emotional support.
But older adults can also help themselves by knowing what causes obesity at their age:
1. Changes in Taste and Smell (Dysgeusia)
Eating for older people becomes more of a chore with age. You can’t taste or smell as well as you once did, and the foods that appealed to appetites in your twenties now become bland and unappealing. Persons who have lost their sense of smell might also lose interest in food because they can’t taste it.
But why does this happen? When a person reaches 40, the number of taste buds decline. By the time they are 60, they can no longer distinguish certain tastes, like bitterness, sourness, sweetness, and saltiness.
This change could then affect their diet. They might add more salt or sugar to their food. Sometimes they taste sweet and salty food better than others. All these can contribute to an increased risk of obesity in their population.
2. Decline in Physical Activity
Exercise benefits everyone regardless of age. For seniors, physical movement maintains posture, balance, and joint strength. It helps prevent or delay chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disorders, and hypertension.
The CDC recommends that older adults perform a moderate-intensity exercise for 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day. However, only a few meet that to no fault of their own.
Seniors usually deal with the following:
- Possible diagnosis of osteoporosis, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal diseases
- Fear of falling, which increases the risk of fracture and death
- Depression and anxiety
- Lack of accessibility that can increase their mobility
- Fatigue or poor energy levels
- Other chronic conditions that Alzheimer’s disease or cancer
- Poor respiratory health
- Uneven or slow gait
3. Slower Metabolism
Metabolism is the process of converting food into energy. It also affects how one’s body responds to calories and nutrients. As a person grows older, physiological changes happen that might slow down the rate of metabolism:
- Loss of Muscle Mass – Muscle fibers shrink, called atrophy. This process begins at age 40 and becomes worse after 60 years old for women and 70 for men. It accounts for an average 3 to 8 percent loss of muscle tissue after the age of 65. Compared to fat, muscles burn more calories. Poor muscle mass can also contribute to less physical activity.
- Hormones – Testosterone level naturally decreases as a man ages. For women, there is a decline in estrogen production and other hormones that can be attributed to obesity.
- Chronic Diseases – Long-term conditions can affect the way the body responds to food. It might also affect appetite and metabolism. One of these is diabetes. Diabetes increases the risk of obesity by keeping insulin and glucose levels high. The body becomes resistant to insulin, making it difficult for glucose to reach muscle cells. Muscle cells cannot absorb calories and use them as energy.
Worse, weight distribution also changes with age. Older people might notice that they are keeping more body fat and accumulating it in their abdominal area.
Also known as visceral fat, this type is harmful since it is close to vital organs such as the heart and liver. It can also alter the way the body produces, releases, and uses hormones, which then causes metabolic dysregulation.
4. Isolation and Loneliness
In the United States, a staggering 12 million seniors live alone, usually because they prefer to age in place. In other words, they don’t move into an assisted living facility or nursing home, downsize and move close to their children, or move in with their family members.
This setup, although beneficial for financial reasons, could increase the risk of isolation and loneliness. In turn, those who live alone could experience depression and anxiety.
Multiple studies showed that these mental problems could result in obesity due to poor nutrition or changes in eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, and poor sleep quality. The CDC shared that over 40 percent of people with depression are also obese.
Obesity is not just a result of poor food choices and a sedentary lifestyle, especially among older adults. It can also develop due to physiological changes such as metabolism slowdown, lack of physical activity, and social isolation. It isn’t surprising then that seniors need excellent weight management support.