By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 26 April 2022 • 12:51
Over 80, have a higher than recommended BMI, then you may live longer
The research undertaken in China found that weight guidelines should be changed for this age group, as those that apply to younger people may not be appropriate.
Based on a person’s height and weight, body mass index (BMI) scores are meant to give an indication of the person’s healthy weight. Most guidelines suggest that someone with a score above 25 is considered overweight and 30 obese.
But those guidelines says Xiaoming Shi at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing are largely based on measurements taken from younger age groups. That means they may not be appropriate for an older and less active person.
Shi and his colleagues studied mortality risk in more than 27,000 people over the age of 80 from all corners of China. With an average age of 93, the study which started in 1998 and ended in 2018 or until the participant died.
Although studies have been conducted in the past into the link between BMI and age, they found that there was a link however this is the first large scale study.
On average they found that the optimal BMI for the over-80s was around 29, largely driven by a lower risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes such as cancer or respiratory disease. This group also had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, but the relationship was weaker.
Even those with a BMI in the “obese” range, between 30 and 35, had a lower mortality rate than those in the 20 to 25 range.
The team, who accounted socioeconomic status, education background and whether a person smoked, say it is unclear why a higher BMI is linked with a lower mortality rate. The speculation is that it may be down to diet, with those who have a higher BMI enjoying a more nutritious diet.
Shi said that the study would need to be replicated elsewhere as it may not be an indicator of the link elsewhere given differences in diet and lifestyle. He also notes that, in general, the BMI scores of this population were lower than those found in the West with over 40 per cent of the over 60s in the US obese.
Louise Baur at the University of Sydney says that: “This study highlights the importance of taking age into account when considering the relation between BMI and mortality or other health risks.”
She agrees that there is still no understanding of why the link exists as she does with the view that it may be diet related. Her colleague Nicholas Fuller, also at the University of Sydney said that: “While BMI is an accessible and affordable way to screen a person’s health, it shouldn’t be relied on as a single measure of health.
“BMI is based on body weight, but a person’s disease risk is linked to body fat, not weight. It is more important to focus on measures that tell us more about fat in the body and where it’s distributed, such as waist circumference, to get a better understanding of health and risk.”
The study that found a higher than recommended BMI, may result in living longer provides good insight but will as Shi said, require replication elsewhere before any change in advice is made.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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