Background: The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased in all age groups, including older adults. However, it is not known whether higher body weight is maintained in the very old and in the years prior to death. The present study examines whether there are secular trends in body weight in old age among three birth cohorts.
Methods: The study population includes 1,364 Caucasian men born between 1877 and 1941 from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging who were followed until death. Four hundred and seventy-seven men had body weight measured during the last 5 years prior to death. Body weight was measured biannually with the last visit occurring between 1959 and 2008. Differences in body weight at the last visit and body weight trajectories across birth cohorts were examined with linear regression and linear mixed-effect regression models.
Results: Men born between 1920 and 1941 had significantly higher body weight over the entire follow-up time compared with men born between 1900 and 1919 (p < .001) and 1877 and 1899 (p = .001), and the difference was also significant between the two earlier birth cohorts (p < .001). A significant increasing trend in body weight across birth cohorts was also observed in the few years prior to death.
Conclusions: In generally healthy men, there is a significant secular increase in body weight over the adult life span and in the few years prior to death. This study confirms that the obesity epidemic also extends into late life in the current elderly population.