Obesity should be considered premature ageing: Research

Evelyn Lewin

26/02/2020 4:23:22 PM

New research calls for obesity and ageing to be considered ‘two sides of the same coin’ as their associated diseases mirror each other.

Overweight man receiving a blood pressure test.
It is important to explain to patients with obesity that the health impacts of the condition affects both morbidity and mortality.

Obesity predisposes people to acquiring the same types of potentially life-threatening diseases and conditions as those normally associated with ageing.
These include compromised genomes, weakened immune systems, decreased cognition and increased chances of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, among other medical issues.
Obesity should therefore be considered premature ageing.
That is what the authors of a new Obesity Reviews paper have argued.
Dr Elizabeth Crouch, a GP with a special interest in eating disorders, agrees.
She told newsGP she applauds the idea of referring to the risks of obesity as being akin to those of ageing.
‘I think it is a good idea because people often may not be so worried about the message about losing weight, people can switch off to that, they’ve heard it before,’ she said.
But she said if doctors are able to tell patients that if they continue to maintain their current weight, then their life is likely to be shortened by a number of years, it could help them see the issue in a new light.
‘It often puts it into perspective for people,’ she said. ‘That might be a wake-up call for people.’
Addressing morbidity, not just life expectancy, can also help patients with obesity better understand the risks associated with the disease.
‘So many different areas of health are affected and impacted by obesity,’ she said.
Dr Crouch added it is common for her patients with obesity to say, ‘I don’t want to live until I’m 100, so it doesn’t really matter’.
She said patients could see their situation more clearly if informed that their lives may not only be shortened, but that they were likely to experience more illnesses associated with their obesity.
 ‘So it’s [increased] morbidity and mortality,’ she said.
The researchers came to their conclusions after reviewing more than 200 papers that looked at the effects of obesity.
The study’s lead author, Associate Professor Sylvia Santosa, said her research found strong parallels between ageing and obesity, and that she was inspired to look closer into the area after realising how many children with obesity were developing adult-onset conditions or diseases such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
‘[T]he mechanisms by which the comorbidities of obesity and ageing develop are very similar,’ she said.
‘There is certainly something that is happening in obesity that is accelerating our ageing process.’
Dr Crouch hopes further research into this field will lead to the formulation of a risk assessment tool, similar to the current cardiovascular risk assessment one.
‘It would be really good to do further research and try and quantify [risk] so that we can actually have tables where we can say, “this degree of obesity has been associated with this increased risk”,’ she said.
When a cardiovascular risk assessment reveals an increased risk of heart disease, extra guidelines are put in place to manage those risks, Dr Crouch said.
‘We say at the moment, if you continue the way you’re going, your risk is very high, but if we do this, that will change your risk,’ she said.
Dr Crouch hopes the same principles can be adapted to obesity and its associated health risks.
Ideally, she hopes this information will be displayed on a graph that doctors can then show patients in a visual way.
‘The more objective information we have, the better,’ she said.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the National Health Survey 2017–18, two thirds of Australians 18 years and over were overweight or obese.
Of those, slightly more than a third (35.6%) were overweight, and slightly less than a third were obese (31.2%).

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Dr Annette Hackett   2/03/2020 10:43:39 AM

While not doubting the research, I find it interesting that we continue to lay shame/blame and guilt on those who are larger when there is no known 'cure'. Diets work - for a limited time. 95 - 98% of people who lose weight will regain it in the next 2 - 5 years. Dieting itself is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. If losing weight (and maintaining that weight loss in the long term) were easy, there would be very few larger people, and we could spend the billions that are currently put into the weight loss industry more intelligently. When we start to present community and society-wide solutions (reducing poverty, lessening the rich/poor divide, reducing fat stigma etc. - all socio-economic factors), and stop blaming the individual, then I will know that we are at last following the evidence.