Losing Weight Later in Life May Lead to Premature Death: Study
Sat, April 17, 2021

Losing Weight Later in Life May Lead to Premature Death: Study

Researchers found out that adults who went from being obese are at higher risk of mortality / Photo Credit: 123RF


Losing weight is widely regarded as a good way to make the body healthy and prevent it from being obese regardless of age. However, it turns out that it also has some serious consequences. A recently published study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that shedding some pounds in middle age or late adulthood could increase the risk of premature death.

Researchers from Huazhong University in China analyzed the link between the changes in body weight and the possibilities of early death. They also found that weight gain beyond the 40s also raises the likelihood of dying prematurely.

"Our takeaway is that it's best to prevent weight gain at younger ages to reduce the risk of premature death later in life," An Pan, study author and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Tongji Medical College in Wuhan, told CNN.

Obesity and overweight are a global public health concern. The first affected over 500 billion people while the latter two billion in 2016 with at least 2.8 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization. Low- and middle-income countries are also seeing a prevalence of obesity, which was once associated only with high-income nations. 

Weight gain and death

The analyzed data for 36,051 middle-aged US citizens, who were weighed and measured at the beginning of the 12-year study and disclosed their weight when they were at 25 and 35 years old. Final results showed a recorded death of 10,500, said the Daily Mail, a British daily middle-market newspaper published in London in a tabloid format.

Compared to people with a healthy weight, the researchers found that those who became obese at 25 or over were at a higher risk (22 percent) of early death due to any cause. The researchers also observed a 49 percent increased risk of death from heart disease after the researchers excluded factors that could affect results.



The Daily Mail added that the biggest risk is seen in people who remain obese during the entirety of their adulthood—with 72 percent of increased premature death.

Although there were no health risks for people who went back to a healthy weight, the researchers found that it wasn't the same for those who lost weight when they were older. All-cause mortality was 30 percent higher for middle-aged people who went from being obese to a healthy weight while the increased risk from heart disease was 48 percent higher.

"Stable obesity across adulthood, weight gain from young to middle adulthood, and weight loss from middle to late adulthood were associated with increased risks of mortality," the authors said. "The findings imply that maintaining normal weight across adulthood, especially preventing weight gain in early adulthood, is important for preventing premature deaths in later life."

A positive outcome from the study was that there was no association between weight change and any type of cancer, despite the 12 separate cancers having been previously linked with obesity.


Results show that men are more likely being obese or overweight than women / Photo Credit: 123RF

Analysis of the reason

The study showed compelling results on weight change and mortality. But the researchers noted that there are limitations to their work, namely the study not including the analysis of the reason for losing weight later in life. CNN said one factor could be whether the weight loss was intentional or not.

Pan said unintentional weight loss could be an indication that the person has an underlying condition like cancer or diabetes. He added that another reason is that someone was already obese and at a higher risk. "The first message is to try not to gain weight when you're young, and in old age focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle," the author told CNN. "Weight is a secondary consideration." He added that more research is needed to be done to determine the reasons for the link between weight changes and mortality as well as the long-term health consequences of weight loss.

While being obese increases risks of early death, the researchers found that being overweight throughout the patients' adult life was not associated with dying young. CNN reported that earlier studies linked high body mass index (BMI) in adulthood with a higher risk of premature death, although there are lesser-known facts regarding the role of changing weight over time.


Maintaining a healthy weight

The results showed the importance of keeping a normal weight throughout one's life, according to nutritionist Katharine Jenner, adding that obesity should be prevented at the onset and not just treating the diseases it causes.

In 2016, 38 percent of women and 36 percent of men in the US were clinically obese—nearly triple the increase from 1975 data of 14 percent and 11 percent, respectively, as per data cited in the recent study. Meanwhile, the UK reports 28.7 percent of its adults being obese while 35.6 percent are overweight, with men more likely being overweight or obese (67.2 percent) than women (61.5 percent).

Maintaining a healthy weight will not only lower the risk of death and obesity, but it also lowers the risk of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and occurrences of stroke.