Elderly Woman Mending Old Clothes, More

The Growing Costs of Obesity in Aging

An increasingly archaic way to think about the chronic disease of obesity in aging is to assume that excess weight is protective beyond a certain age. Such thinking has never been backed by much evidence. Now, the benefits of evidence-based obesity care are becoming evident to people concerned about the growing burden of chronic diseases in an aging population.

In Age, the official journal of the American Aging Association, Magdalena Jura and Leslie Kozak explain:

The increase in life expectancy is often accompanied with additional years of susceptibility to chronic ill health associated with obesity in the elderly. Both obesity and aging are conditions leading to serious health problems and increased risk for disease and death. Aging is associated with an increase in abdominal obesity, a major contributor to insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome. Obesity in the elderly is thus a serious concern and comprehension of the key mechanisms of aging and age-related diseases has become a necessary matter.

Whether one is concerned about health outcomes or costs or both, consideration of obesity in aging is a matter that needs urgent attention. In the Care Management Journals, a recent commentary by Cindy Marihart, Ardith Brunt, and Angela Geraci explains what is at risk:

Nursing homes are not prepared to deal with very obese patients. This is a public health concern because there are more obese people than ever in history before and the future appears to have even a heavier generation moving forward. Policymakers need to become aware of this serious gap in nursing home care.

Simply gearing up to bear the expense of bad outcomes from obesity in the Medicare population will be a losing strategy. The costs will mount for this chronic disease of obesity. It will have already taken most of its toll and left an enduring legacy of other, irreversible chronic diseases. Preventing those chronic diseases by providing evidence-based obesity care makes sense, for reducing both costs and human suffering.

This is why the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act and the work of the Bipartisan Chronic Care Working Group of the Senate Finance Committee are so important. Simply pretending that we can bear the costs — human and financial — of neglecting needed care for obesity in the Medicare population will no longer work in anyone’s interest.

Click here for the publication by Jura and Kozak and here for the commentary by Marihart et al. Click here for the policy options paper published by the SFC’s Chronic Care Working Group.

Elderly Woman Mending Old Clothes, painting by Camille Pissarro from WikiArt

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February 12, 2016