Background: In elders, decreased muscle mass (sarcopenia) and increased fat mass (obesity) may contribute to difficulties with physical function.
Objective: The objective was to examine the association of obesity, sarcopenia, and their combination (sarcopenic-obesity) with self-reported difficulties performing physical function in a cohort of community-dwelling elderly women.
Design: We assessed muscle and fat mass by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and self-reported difficulties with physical function in 1308 healthy women aged > or =75 y. Sarcopenia was defined as an appendicular skeletal muscle mass < or =2 SD below the mean in a young female reference group. Obesity was defined as a percentage body fat above the 60th percentile. Thirty-six sarcopenic-obese, 90 purely sarcopenic, 435 purely obese, and 747 women with a healthy body composition were studied. Anthropometric measures, health status, lifestyle habits, and self-reported difficulties with 6 different physical functions were obtained.
Results: Compared with women with a healthy body composition and after adjustment for confounders, purely sarcopenic women had no increased odds of having difficulties for all of the physical functions assessed, purely obese women had a 44-79% higher odds of having difficulties with most of the physical functions assessed (P < 0.05), and sarcopenic-obese women had a 2.60 higher odds of having difficulty climbing stairs and a 2.35 higher odds of having difficulty going down stairs (all P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Sarcopenia is not associated with physical difficulties in the absence of obesity. However, in the presence of obesity, sarcopenia tends to add difficulty for some physical functions.