Background: Obesity is increasingly prevalent among older adults, yet little is known about the impact of health behaviors on the trajectories of body weight in this age group.
Methods: We examined the effect of time-varying smoking, physical activity (PA), alcohol use, and changes thereof, on the 14-year (1992-2006) trajectory of body- mass index (BMI) in a cohort of 10,314 older adults from the Health and Retirements Study, aged 51-61 years at baseline. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) quantifies the effect of smoking, PA, and alcohol use (user status, initiation and cessation) on intercept and rate-of-change in BMI trajectory, and tests for variations in the strength of association between each behavior and BMI.
Results: Over 14 years (82,512 observations), BMI increased approximated by a quadratic function. Smoking and PA (user status and initiation) were associated with significantly lower BMI trajectories over time. Cessation of smoking and PA resulted in higher BMI trajectories over time. The weight-gaining effect of smoking cessation increased, while the strength of association between BMI trajectories and PA or alcohol use were constant over time. Socio-economic and health status differences explained the effects of alcohol use on BMI trajectory.
Conclusions: In older adults, smoking and PA, and changes thereof, vary in their long-term effect on trajectories of BMI. Barring increases in PA levels, older smokers who quit today are expected to gain significantly more weight than two decades ago. This knowledge is essential for the design of smoking cessation, physical activityPA, and weight-control interventions in older adults.