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The Effects of Obesity on Older Adults

May 1, 2017

Obesity in the elderly is a growing health issue. The effects of obesity in older adults are quite concerning and may cause a loved one to develop severe health complications.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that one-third of Americans adults are obese. 29.7% of seniors aged 65 and older are obese in the state of Georgia. We’ll go over what makes obesity so prevalent in our society and ways to improve health despite obesity.

 

What Is Obesity?

 

Your body absorbs nutrients from the food you eat. The nutrients that don’t get used as energy throughout your daily activities are then stored as fat. When we gain weight, our fat cells get bigger because we don’t end up burning the extra lipids. Instead, the lipids become stored in the fat cell, enlarging it. Obesity is a dangerous excess of fat.

 

Adipose tissue is an important endocrine organ that stores fat and helps to regulate metabolism. Adipose tissue surrounds organs, providing cushion to protect them from physical injuries. Your adipose tissue communicates with your brain by sending and receiving messages through hormones. When your body has too much adipose tissue, that communication is impaired. Health complications arise such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or stroke. Your loved one could eventually develop any of these diseases if he or she is obese.

 

Causes of Obesity

 

So what causes obesity? There are various reasons why a person may become obese: genetic disposition, socioeconomic background, overeating because of stress, inactivity, and mental health issues.

 

Genetics

 

One of the main causes of obesity is genetic predisposition. If your family has a history of obesity, then your loved one naturally has a higher risk of becoming obese as well. Of course, environmental factors and lifestyle choices add to the risk of obesity.

 

Socioeconomic Background

 

Socioeconomic background plays a key role in a person’s diet. Those with a smaller income may not make enough money or have enough time to buy healthier, unprocessed options at the grocery store. Thus, they might be more inclined to grab quick, cheap, high-calorie foods. Encourage your loved ones to buy fresh fruit and vegetables which can also be inexpensive.

 

Overeating

 

Many of us are guilty of stress eating when times get difficult. However, this is not a healthy way to deal with stress because although we think of it as a one-time cheat, stressful situations may last a few days, weeks, or months. Stress eating can turn into a habit and cause your loved one to gain more and more weight.

 

Lack of Activity

Physical inactivity can also lead to obesity. Exercise burns calories, so it helps to keep your heart and lungs healthy. Excess adipose tissue tightens and hardens the arteries, weakening your cardiovascular system.

 

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues like depression can make your loved one become obese. Inactivity correlates to a lower serotonin level, and a low serotonin level can cause depression. Also, obesity can cause low self-esteem. Your loved one may feel like he can’t change the way he looks because of his weight, which can make him feel helpless.

 

Dangers of Obesity

 

Why is obesity a problem? AS already mentioned, obesity leads to physical health problems. Obesity can hinder your loved one’s performance of important daily routines. Obesity is like a vicious circle. Without exercise, your loved one will gain weight. At the same time, obesity makes it difficult to exercise because the body is sluggish and has lost muscle mass, making it hard to exercise.

 

Obesity raises blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels over time, which puts your loved one at risk for heart disease and a stroke. Additionally, obesity increases insulin resistance, so the body has a harder time converting blood sugar levels into energy. Obesity speeds up the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes. Carrying around more weight than your body can easily carry deteriorates tissue around joints, causing severe pain in the back, knee, and hip regions; ultimately resulting in osteoarthritis. But by pairing exercise and healthy eating, your elderly loved one can reduce the health problems associated with obesity.

 

Measures of Obesity

 

A simple way to figure out if your loved one is or is at risk of becoming obese is to use a BMI calculator.

Body Mass Index (BMI) measures the percentage of body fat an individual has based on her weight and height. Once your loved one’s BMI is calculated, you can look at a BMI graph which indicates if he is underweight, normal, overweight, or obese.

  • Underweight = <18.5

  • Healthy weight = 18.5-24.9

  • Overweight = 25-29.9

  • Obese = > 30

 

Finding out your loved one’s BMI is a good place to start when trying to assess his risk of obesity. Having a conversation with your healthcare provider about your loved one’s health would be the best step to take.

 

Ways to Fight Obesity

Nutritional guidance

 

Modifying diet is crucial to fighting obesity. Help your loved one stop eating prepackaged microwaveable dinners and processed foods because they tend to contain too much sodium. Eating processed meals or fast food once a week can harm your health. Teach your loved one how to cook easy, healthier meals at home.

 

In addition, encourage your loved one to train her mind to cope with emotional stress a different way, instead of picking up a comfort food when a situation is too stressful. Meditation, yoga, or a warm bath can help to solve their issue. Have an open dialogue with your loved one to make sure his emotional needs are met.

 

Exercise

 

Daily activities are hard to perform when the body can’t support itself. Exercising will help your loved one to lose weight and strengthen her bones.

 

Becoming comfortable with exercising is a process. At first, it will be hard to exercise after being inactive for a long time. Support your loved one by engaging in exercise with him and prioritizing the strength and health of his body and not just his appearance.

 

Here are a few simple ways you and your loved one can burn some calories:

 

  • You can lose around 300 calories just by strolling through the park for an hour.

  • Gardening can burn about 334 calories.

  • Grocery shopping for an hour can burn around 130 calories.

  • Depending on body weight, shopping at the mall can burn 200 or more calories in an hour.

  • An easy exercise for older adults, Tai Chi, burns about 356 calories for a person who weighs 185 pounds. 

  • Even knitting can burn up to 500 calories.

 

In between watching her favorite TV shows, encourage your loved one to take a walk around the house or the neighborhood to decrease these old sedentary habits.

 

New Beginnings

 

Change is hard, especially if your loved one has lived a certain way for a long time. Breaking old habits and initiating new habits is easier said than done. However, with the help of a support system, you can help your loved one to reverse and prevent the effects of obesity.

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