Weight change and physical function in older women: findings from the Nun Study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1995 Dec;43(12):1394-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1995.tb06620.x.


Objective: To investigate the association between change in weight and decline in physical function in older women.

Design: Longitudinal study of a defined population of Catholic sisters (nuns) whose weight and function were assessed twice, an average of 584 days apart.

Setting: Unique life communities (convents) located throughout the United States.

Participants: 475 Catholic sisters who were 75 to 99 years of age (M = 82.1, SD = 4.8) and were independent in at least one Activity of Daily Living (ADL) at the first assessment of weight and function.

Interventions: None.

Measurements: At each assessment, weight, ADLs, and cognitive function were evaluated as part of the Nun Study--a longitudinal study of aging and Alzheimer's disease. Annual percent weight change was calculated using weights from the two assessments, as well as the number of days that elapsed between assessments.

Results: Mean weight at first assessment was 140 pounds (range 78 to 232, SD = 27). The mean annual percent weight change was 0.1% (range 22% loss to 16% gain, SD = 3.8). Age- and initial weight-adjusted findings indicated that those participants with an annual percent weight loss of 3% or greater had 2.7 to 3.9 times the risk of becoming dependent in each ADL, compared to the sisters with no weight change. The elevated risk persisted in those who were mentally intact or were independent in their eating habits.

Conclusion: Monitoring of weight may be an easy and inexpensive method of identifying older individuals at increased risk of disability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Catholicism
  • Disabled Persons
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss*
  • Women's Health