Background: The causes and health risks associated with obesity in young people have been extensively documented, but elderly obesity is less well understood, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This study examines the relationship between obesity and the risk of chronic diseases, cognitive impairment, and functional disability among the elderly in Ghana. It highlights the social and cultural dimensions of elderly obesity and discusses the implications of related health risks using a socio-ecological model.
Methodology: We used data from wave 1 of the Ghana Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) survey-2007/8, with a restricted sample of 2,091 for those 65 years and older. Using random effects multinomial, ordered, and binary logit models, we examined the relationship between obesity and the risk of stage 1 and stage 2 hypertension, arthritis, difficulties with recall and learning new tasks, and deficiencies with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living.
Findings: Elderly Ghanaians who were overweight and obese had a higher risk of stage 1 and stage 2 hypertension, and were more likely to be diagnosed with arthritis and report severe deficiencies with instrumental activities of daily living. Those who were underweight were 1.71 times more likely to report severe difficulties with activities of daily living. A sub analysis using waist circumference as a measure of body fat showed elderly females with abdominal adiposity were relatively more likely to have stage 2 hypertension.
Conclusions: These findings call for urgent policy initiatives geared towards reducing obesity among working adults given the potentially detrimental consequences in late adulthood. Future research should explore the gendered pathways leading to health disadvantages among Ghanaian women in late adulthood.