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The rise of the supersize over 60s

Yvonne Taylor was painfully aware she was putting her health at increasing risk as she neared her sixtieth birthday.

At five stone overweight she was battling rheumatoid arthritis in her knees, exacerbated by her weight. Her lack of energy and agility limited her ability to play with her grandchildren and the future looked bleak.

“I wasn’t getting any younger and I worried about the future,” says Yvonne, 59. “Food had always been a bit of a release; I’d been overweight since my forties. I’d tried all sorts of diets but nothing seemed to work. Then, I found out about a weight-loss plan that offered telephone counselling via groups. It was the lifeline I’d been looking for. I’d been trying to slim down for years. I needed something fresh and different.”

Yvonne went on to shed five stone and is now a remarkably youthful-looking size 12. But considers herself one of the lucky ones.

A recent study by the University of Glasgow found that at least a quarter of 60 to 70 year olds are obese. The university team examined data from the Health Survey of England and the Scottish Health Survey comparing the periods of 1994 to 1996 and 2008 to 2010. Professor Mike Lean concluded: “People are growing fatter later in life, with waist sizes rising more persistently than BMI which may indicate increased loss of muscle mass in old age. Within the 14-year period of this study, we also are seeing more young people entering adult life already obese, and more older people have adverse body composition. The continuing rise of waist circumference in older age groups is evidence of continued body fat accumulation and redistribution into older age, which is a major public health concern.

“The proportion of people with a ‘normal’ BMI has dropped to only about 15 per cent of UK adults by the age of 65. This rather small proportion now includes unhealthy people who have illnesses that have caused weight loss or prevent weight gain, as well as those who are genuinely healthy and active. So older people with an apparently ‘healthy’ BMI are not all healthy.”

 

People are growing fatter later in life, with waist sizes rising more persistently than BMI, which may indicate increased loss of muscle mass in old age.

Professor Mike Lean

The fact is a person might spend decades feeling – even looking – relatively healthy but a lifetime of frequent overeating doesn’t bode well for their twilight years. As they get older, the obese are far more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases and certain types of cancer.

Now instead of looking forward to an active, enjoyable retirement more and more Brits are battling the effects of obesity and shortened life expectancies.

Yvonne says she is grateful that she is no longer among them. Since losing weight, her health and confidence have improved substantially. “Losing weight has given me my life back. I no longer have to take any medication for my knees which is amazing. If I hadn’t succeeded I think I would be in a very dark place. I feel so much more confident now, my knees are giving me far less trouble and I love playing with the grandchildren.

“Plus, I know I can pick up the phone and join a weight-management group whenever I need to. Support is always there and I think for any diet to work you need as much support as you can get.”

To read more about Yvonne, click here.