Women who put on weight as they approach middle-age could reduce their chances of enjoying a healthy old age by up to 80%, according to research from the University of Warwick.
The study, published today (Wednesday) in the British Medical Journal, suggests that women who have a high body mass index in middle age are significantly more likely to suffer from major chronic diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease and poor quality of life.
Dr Oscar Franco, Assistant Clinical Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School collaborated on the paper with researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.
The research team found that for every 1kg gained in weight since the age of 18, the odds of healthy survival into old age decreased by 5%.
They also found that women who were overweight at the age of 18 and continued to gain weight as they grew older were most at risk of developing a major chronic disease. Obese women with a body mass index of more than 25kg/m2 had 79% lower odds of aging without developing a chronic disease, compared to women with a body mass index of 18.5-22.9kg/m2.
The research team used the Nurses' Health Study, which has gathered data from more than 120,000 female registered nurses living in 11 US states since 1976. Follow-up questionnaires have been sent out every two years to update information on disease incidence and lifestyle factors.
Dr Franco said those study participants who had reached the age of 70 and were free of major chronic disease, had no major impairment of cognitive function and no major limitation of physical function were considered as examples of 'successful aging'.
He said: "In summary, this study provides new evidence that adiposity at mid-life is a strong risk factor predicting a worse probability of successful survival among older women. In addition, our data suggest that maintenance of healthy weight throughout adulthood may be vital to optimal overall health at older ages. Given that more and more people are surviving to older ages and, at the same time, gaining weight, our results may be particularly important with respect to clinical or public health interventions."