Obesity in the over-50s contributing to health problems

Report also finds increase in problematic drinking’ among over-50s

A major study of the over-50s in Ireland over five years has found more than one third are obese, which it says is “strongly associated” with the onset of cardiovascular disease and “a significantly higher prevalence” of diabetes.

A major study of the over-50s in Ireland over five years has found more than one third are obese, which it says is “strongly associated” with the onset of cardiovascular disease and “a significantly higher prevalence” of diabetes.

Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 09:05

A major study of the over-50s in Ireland over five years has found more than one third are obese, which it says is “strongly associated” with the onset of cardiovascular disease and “a significantly higher prevalence” of diabetes.

The findings are published today as part of the second major report by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which is a national study of more than 8,000 people aged 50 and over in Ireland. The report is based on data collected between April 2012 and January 2013 and shows how the lives of the over-50s in Ireland have changed over the period since they were last interviewed in 2009 and 2010.

The report also finds a further 44 per cent of over-50s are overweight. Obesity is “strongly associated” with heart disease and diabetes, which is three times more common in obese individuals.

Rates of cardiovascular disease among obese over-50s are nearly twice as high as rates among those of normal weight, while about one third of the over-50s report low levels of physical activity.

Minister for Health James Reilly said he was “struck” by some “worrying trends” in the findings. “The finding that 35 per cent of the over-50s are obese with a further 44 per cent overweight is another serious cause for concern,” he said.

“Our current national drive to combat childhood obesity is a very necessary one. These findings therefore, remind us that obesity is a lifelong issue and one that will require sustained and targeted interventions across all age groups and into the years ahead.”

The research also found that over half of those aged 75 and over have arthritis. Some ten percent of those aged 75 and over without arthritis when first surveyed went on to develop the condition.

“Problematic drinking” has risen for both men and women; from 17 per cent to 22 per cent in men and from 8 per cent to 11 per cent in women.

Polypharmacy, which is the taking five or more medications, has increased from 21 per cent to 26 per cent.

Nearly 20 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women over-50 have fallen in the past year, and almost 10 per cent of the over-50s have had a fall requiring medical treatment in the last year.

The over-50s “enjoy high levels of satisfaction with their quality of life into late old age, and those with strong social networks and relationships have higher quality of life than those who are less socially active”.

Dr Reilly said he was “encouraged” by some of the findings, “particularly those that show, in general, the over-50s enjoy a good quality of life and report their health as excellent or very good”.

There has been a decline in private health insurance cover among the under-65s but an increase in those aged 65 or over. The percentage of the over-50s with a medical or GP visit card has increased overall, but declined in those aged 70 years and over.

The uptake of prostate and breast cancer screening is high but the uptake of the flu vaccine is low.

The incomes of the over-50s have remained stable, but wealth has fallen, largely due to a reduction in the value of property assets.

TILDA principal investigator Prof Rose Anne Kenny said the findings show recent policy changes “have already impacted on aspects of health, economic and social care in Ireland”.

“TILDA has demonstrated strong associations between obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, angina and heart attacks. The high prevalence of obesity and associated chronic disease is a cause for concern.

“Given current and future dramatic changes in the Irish population, with one fifth of people aged over 65 by 2060, TILDA will greatly assist new policy initiatives to address health behaviours and disease prevention so that our later life years can be healthy and independent.”