The study revealed that obesity, which had become more common among older people today, was having an increasingly profound impact on their day-to-day activities and overall health.
The recent research has challenged the earlier studies that say that obese populations had actually become healthier since the 1960s. While other obesity-related risk factors - such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol - had declined.
Researchers compared health data from 1988-1994 to data from 1999-2004, and found that the odds of suffering from functional impairment have increased 43 percent among obese adults. This meant today older, obese adults are less able to do things like walk a quarter of a mile, climb 10 steps, pick up a 10-pound weight.
The boffins also estimated the risk of functional and activities of daily living (ADL) impairment - the inability to move from a bed, dress, or eat - for normal weight, overweight, and obese populations for both time periods, and evaluated trends in the relationship between obesity and disability over time.
"Obesity is more hazardous to the health of the elderly than we previously suspected, for an older person, suffering from obesity means they are much less likely to be able to walk to the front door or pick up a bag of groceries," says Dawn Alley, PhD, lead author, and Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine.
"Preventing disability should be another motivation for health care providers, policymakers and the public to take obesity seriously in the elderly population. Spending time and resources to prevent obesity now may reduce the need to treat disabilities later," he said.
"We believe that two factors are likely contributing to the rise in disability among older, obese people is because people are potentially living longer with their obesity due to improved medical care, and second, people are becoming obese at younger ages than in the past. In both instances, people are living with obesity for longer periods of time, which increases the potential for disability." says Virginia Chang, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Penn; Attending Physician, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and senior study author.
The researchers also discovered that obese people are not benefiting from some of the health improvements that the rest of the population is experiencing.
The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program and by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It is published in the November 7th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.