Management of obesity in the elderly: special considerations

Treat Endocrinol. 2002;1(6):387-98. doi: 10.2165/00024677-200201060-00004.


Over the last few decades, there has been an unprecedented increase in the prevalence of obesity, especially in economically developed countries. Furthermore, it is becoming an increasingly recognized health problem in the elderly. The precise mechanisms underlying increased adiposity in the elderly are not known. Aging is associated with a host of biologic changes that limit the ability of the individual to regulate energy homeostasis. Thus, it is likely that older individuals may be more likely to develop the two extremes of the spectrum of nutritional abnormalities, namely malnutrition and increased adiposity. These nutritional abnormalities are associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Current guidelines define overweight as a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9 kg/m2 and obesity as a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more. However, the optimal BMI may be different in older individuals. Management strategies should attempt to optimize the nutritional status of older individuals. Age per se cannot be used as a justification for denying medical management of obesity to elderly individuals. Individualized programs with the goal of achieving modest weight reduction in obese patients are likely to result in immediate (e.g. alleviation of arthritic pains and reduction of glucose intolerance) and possibly long-term (e.g. reduction in cardiovascular risk) healthcare benefits. Management should emphasize lifestyle modifications, while the use of pharmacologic agents such as sibutramine and orlistat should be reserved for select groups of patients who do not respond to lifestyle modification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / mortality*
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Risk Factors