It’s Never too Late to Reverse Obesity

July 9, 2019

Many people think that obesity isn’t treatable once they have reached a certain age, and thus have an indifferent attitude. I have patients in their 60s who tell me they are too old to reverse their obesity, and what difference would it make anyway? They assume that being overweight is an issue of how they look, and since they are not actively pursuing reproduction, they don’t need to pay attention to this metric.

However, it is possible to manage obesity and lose weight no matter what age, and reversing obesity can have positive health implications as we age. In a six-year University of Miami study of 1,289 people with an average age of 64, participants had MRI brain scans to measure the thickness of the cortex area of the brain. A higher BMI was associated with having a thinner cortex, even adjusted for other factors (blood pressure, alcohol, smoking). In overweight people, every unit increase in BMI was associated with a 0.098 millimeter (mm) thinner cortex and in obese people with a 0.207 mm thinner cortex. Having a thinner cortex has been tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In normal aging adults, overall thinning rate of the cortical mantle is between 0.01 and 0.10 mm per decade; this study suggests being overweight or obese may accelerate aging in the brain by at least a decade.

Interestingly, these associations were especially strong in those who were younger than 65, which adds weight to the theory that having poor health indicators in mid-life may increase the risk for brain aging and problems with memory and thinking skills in later life.

Also, the healthiest people are more likely to live longer and take part in studies, so those who were already declining didn’t participate. This only strengthens the clinical implications that obesity should be actively managed, even in the geriatric population.

The Northern Manhattan Study. Neurology, 2019.