Fighting fat

The publication of a comprehensive analysis of increased weight among over-50s in the Republic makes for sobering reading. Some four out of every five of those over 50 are either overweight or obese. The Trinity College research, part of the major Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda), measured the body mass index (BMI) and the waist circumference of more than 8,000 Irish people. The reliability of the results is reflected in the similar outcomes for both measurements: based on waist circumference some 77 per cent of older adults are either centrally obese or have an increased waist size, while 79 per cent are either overweight or obese, according to BMI analysis.

It confirms predictions that male obesity levels here would eventually mirror those in the US. For women, it means obesity levels in Ireland are now similar to those found in older women in England.

And the negative health consequences of increased weight are evident among those studied; one in five men who is centrally obese has documented cardiovascular disease, while almost one in two was found to have high blood pressure. Overweight women also suffer additional cardiac problems and higher levels of diabetes while the long-standing effect of increased weight on joint health is reflected in increased levels of arthritis in both sexes.

A notable finding is a clear relationship between obesity and objective measures of physical functioning in both men and women; for example, obese women walk over 10cm per second slower than normal-weight women.


The report also highlights the serious burden that these levels of obesity and overweight are placing on Ireland's health services. Obese older adults visit their GP more frequently, and a higher proportion report the concurrent use of five or more medications than normal weight individuals. In responding to this research, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar must accommodate the need for additional services for the over-50s among the many pressing demands on a shrinking health budget.