Adults who are obese are more likely to experience frailty when they get older compared to adults with an average body mass index (BMI), a study has found.
Scientists carried out a long-term study on adult men and women in Norway and found that adults who are obese are at risk of becoming frail as they age.
Frailty, which is characterised by physical deterioration and increased vulnerability, has been associated with underweight older adults, who are at risk of “adverse health outcomes”, according to the study.
But experts identified a “growing body of evidence” that “suggests a positive association between obesity among older adults and the risk of frailty”.
Researchers from the University of Oslo took the body mass index and waist circumference of 2,340 women and 2,169 men over the age of 45 between 1994 and 1995.
They then continued to follow up with the participants over a period of 21 years to determine their risk of frailty.
The study, published in the BMJ Open journal, defined physical frailty as having three or more symptoms including poor grip strength, slow walking speed, exhaustion, unintentional weight loss and low physical activity.
They found that participants with “baseline obesity” were more likely to be frail or pre-frail compared to those with an average BMI.
“Compared with participants in a stable normal waist circumference trajectory, those with high waist circumference throughout follow-up were more likely to be pre-frail or frail,” the researchers wrote.
This could be due to excess weight exacerbating the decline in muscle strength and physical capacity that occurs as one gets older.
Obesity is also “closely associated with metabolic disorders, inflammageing and oxidative stress”, the study said, which could contribute to the risk of frailty.
The researchers warned against viewing frailty “only as a wasting disorder”, pointing towards a subgroup of “fat and frail” older people.
They added that the study “highlights the importance of routinely assessing and maintaining optimal BMI and waist circumference throughout adulthood to lower the risk of frailty in older age”.