Researchers talk about weight loss in older people at Obesity Week 2013

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

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The following post continues Weighing In’s coverage of Obesity Week 2013. It was contributed by Jing Hong, a University of Georgia graduate student the in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, who attended the Obesity Week 2013 conference.

The prevalence of obesity in the United States is an issue in all age groups, including older people, who may already have existing medical problems. When overweight, older people also have an increased risk of having diabetes and heart disease. However, intentional weight loss by older people can have medical issues of its own.

Limited evidence suggests that intentional weight loss does not increase risk of mortality, but it could result in the loss of spine and hip bone mineral density, according to lecture given by Kristen Beavers at the Obesity Week 2013 conference last month.

Beavers, an assistant visiting professor at Wake Forest University, said people will also lose a certain amount of lean mass during intentional weight loss. And if people regain their weight afterwards, they regain less lean mass than they lost.

Fortunately, older people can lose weight and maintain their healthy weight status successfully.

“Old people are among people most likely to lose weight and keep it off,” said Mary Ann Johnson, a University of Georgia (UGA) foods and nutrition professor, referencing a talk by Johns Hopkins researcher Lawrence Appel she heard at the Obesity Week 2013 conference.

Johnson suggested that older people watch their diet and lead a healthy lifestyle. “They need to keep eating healthy, keep exercising, weigh themselves at least twice a week,” Johnson said.

While older people may be concerned about their health, they may also worry about their ability to eat well on a budget, as many of them are nearly or already retired.

Kevin McCully, a UGA professor of kinesiology suggested inexpensive but healthy foods, such as vegetable salad, over less healthy options, such as fried chicken. “Eat more vegetables, don’t put too much sauce in [your food], don’t put too much sugar in it,” McCully said.

More research on weight loss still needs to be done. A new study through UGA’s Obesity Initiative will focus on helping a hundred overweight women age 50 or older to lose weight. The program includes a six-month period of weight loss and weight maintenance afterwards. Johnson said the project will begin in early 2014.