There Are Old People and Fat People, But Few Old Fat People

Look around you at the bodies of the extremely old - when was the last time you recall seeing an obese centenarian? Excess fat held over the years is a killer, and the oldest people are very rarely overweight. I noticed a paper today that works backwards from medical and mortality data to further support the same conclusion:

There has been ongoing debate about the health risks associated with increased body weight among the elderly population. One issue has not been investigated thoroughly is that body weight changes over time, as both the reasons and results of, the development of chronic diseases and functional disabilities.

Structural models have the ability to unravel the complicated simultaneous relationship between body weight, disability, and mortality along the aging process. Using longitudinal data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey from 1992 to 2001, we constructed a structural model to estimate the longitudinal dynamic relationship between weight, chronic diseases, functional status, and mortality among the aging population.

A simulation of an age cohort from 65 to 100 was conducted to show the changes in weight and health outcomes among the cohorts with different baseline weight based on the parameters estimated by the model. The elderly with normal weight at age 65 experience higher life expectancy and lower disability rates than the same age cohorts in other weight categories. The interesting prediction of our model is that the average body size of an elderly cohort will converge to the normal weight range through a process of survival, senescence, and behavioral adjustment.

Become fat and stay fat, in other words, and you'll remove yourself from the picture much sooner than would otherwise be the case. In addition, your health in the years ahead will be much the worse for it. Do as you will with your life, but don't say you weren't warned.


It's not all bad... Be fat and qualify for an impaired-life annuity, and you can live more comfortably on your larger pension.

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne at August 11th, 2008 6:42 AM

Couldn't it be that people who are fat in mid-life lose weight in old age?

Posted by: h at August 11th, 2008 6:53 AM

Every female relative on both sides of my family passed away between 95 and 100. They were each as big as barrels. The men were each rail thin, wiry, tough. They died in their 60s, or early 70s.

While this article seems legitimate, personal experience is contrary to the conclusion.

Posted by: Edouard Coneho at August 11th, 2008 7:21 AM

These "models" have the same relevance as climate "models" that predict the weather with such accuracy .... ha ha ha ha.

Posted by: Bruce at August 11th, 2008 8:07 AM

The interesting prediction of our model is that the average body size of an elderly cohort will converge to the normal weight range through a process of survival, senescence, and behavioral adjustment.

This is caused by the inability of the elderly to keep on weight in their later years. In other words, live long enough and you won't be fat. People see all the skinny people in nursing homes and assume that the people were skinny all their lives. In fact, they may have been quite hefty until just a couple of years before.

I would also point out that the "normal" weight gauged optimal by the simulation would be considered slightly fat by most people. Being a rail with low body fat will reduce you lifespan as much as being slightly obese.

Posted by: Shannon Love at August 11th, 2008 8:07 AM


Do you know why husbands tend to pre-decease their wives?

Because they want to.

Posted by: Josh at August 11th, 2008 8:40 AM

I would also point out that the "normal" weight gauged optimal by the simulation would be considered slightly fat by most people.

Including our moronic, nannying government. The healthy weight used in this study is officially "overweight". Yes, the people who changed that designation (such that many sports starts are officially "obese") are complete idiots.

Posted by: Deoxy at August 11th, 2008 9:12 AM

I spent some time working in nursing homes in my youth, and my experience was that there were no big guys. The few men who were clearly overweight were certainly not obese, yet without exception they had either suffered a stroke, developed diabetes, got earlier dementia than thin men, experienced congestive heart failure earlier, or were otherwise much more severely impaired than average size (even with a bit of a "gut") or thin men.

Anecdotes about fat relatives living to a ripe old age always seem to be about women, who are biologically tuned to carry fat better than men.

None of this takes into consideration other causes of death in males which are completely unrelated to being severely overweight.

Posted by: David Preiser at August 11th, 2008 10:04 AM

So, the "normal" weight used is at least "over" weight according to current government "guidelines" - which then brings it into alignment with the majority of studies, which show that government's "normal" weight people are actually more prone, once having any illness that hospitalizes them for more than one day, to early mortality.

The Federal guidelines changed a while back to those recommended by WHO: a study in Japan recently showed the WHO guide for Japanese put their healthiest populace over the WHO-recommended "norm."

Here in the US -
In 1985 a consensus conference convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended that men and women be considered “overweight” at BMIs of 27.8 and 27.3, respectively. In 1996 an NIH-sponsored review of the literature found that “increased mortality typically was not evident until well beyond a BMI level of 30.” Yet two years later [1998], the NIH yielded to a World Health Organization recommendation that “overweight” be defined downward to a BMI of 25, with 30 or more qualifying as “obese.”

Posted by: teqjack at August 11th, 2008 11:30 AM

Most people that get to their seventies and eighties lose weight until they are at normal weight, so the study won't predict as much. I had older relatives that died in their eighties and nineties. Based on their weight when they were old they were normal, however they were fat most of their lives.

Posted by: Ana S at August 11th, 2008 11:30 AM

Thin in old age and heavier at middle age is just the natural pattern of aging.

The demands of yearly childbearing and lactation were such that women (who rarely survived to menopause in 1900) needed to store up energy (expended in childbearing and lactation) to regain lost nutrition and provide a safety margin against illness in old age. Osteoporosis and bone fracture (hip/pelvis) greatly increases an older person's mortality risk, and this danger would have been much greater for an underweight woman that had borne multiple children. The greatest risk for osteoporosis is being thin, female, Caucasian or Asian.

Women no longer have to worry about a yearly pregnancy, but our bodies are still genetically programmed to store as much energy as possible after puberty to provide for the next generation, and again at menopause to protect against osteoporosis and poor nutrition in old age.

It was only after WWII that the majority of humans (in the west) have not had to worry as much about going hungry/starving in the winter after bad weather/harvest in the summer, although the 1960s and 1970s still saw a significant percentage of underweight and undersized malnourished children. Indeed, the people of advanced age in the nursing homes today lived through times of calorie restriction in the great depression and WWII.

All in all, I'd rather take my chances with an abundance of food and lots of nice labor-saving devices.

Posted by: SwampWoman at August 11th, 2008 1:45 PM

ant that the troof

Posted by: jon pecock at November 29th, 2011 11:35 AM

I do believe that is true about old people are not overweight. Being in good physical condition (muscles,etc and physical exercise) will help you to live a longer life. Being too thin I would think would be a negative.

Posted by: Christine Thorndill at February 26th, 2013 2:15 PM

I'm 61 and I live in an apartment complex that rents only to senior citizens. All but a few of us here are fat. Most of us are less than perfectly healthy, but most of us are also fat. The percentage of people who are thin here is roughly the same as the percentage of high school students who are fat. My point? People who are not themselves old tend to have this notion that, if they just eat the right foods and stay active, they will enjoy the same levels of health and vitality that they have in youth or middle age. But it doesn't work out that way in real life. One other thing: I have heard more than one person who was more than eighty give out the opinion that death before eighty is a reasonable strategy for maximizing happiness.

Posted by: Ian Coleman at August 11th, 2013 7:38 PM

I don't consider a 61 yr old as elderly. That's middle aged whether or not it qualifies you for a senior discount! Fatness in the sixties is common. I don't see people over 80 who are fat.

Posted by: Lilli at December 25th, 2014 7:09 AM

The fatter u are, the more work for your heart.
Fat brings inflammation, hi blood pressure, diabetese.
When u r 80+ you just can't eat like when you were 40.
I was shocked to see BB King live as long, given his weight/ he passed at 89 almost 90. To be big as a barrel, they must've been midgets to get to 95-100. I am curious about their diet.
A fat person in their 90's is rare.

Posted by: Sean at May 22nd, 2015 12:42 PM

61 is like the "young elderly." You can still work full time, and I do, but you are constantly beset by minor but dismaying health problems. My vision and hearing are getting unreliable, and my knees and back often ache. I notice small glitches in my memory that would never have happened ten years ago. On the other hand, I do not yet have a medical condition requiring medication.

But young people, and people in their forties, consider me old. There is something about the look of my face and the way I move that marks me as an old man. If I were to buy and wear a dark-haired wig, people would say, that's an old guy wearing a wig. Incidentally, I'm thin. I weigh now about the same as I did in my early thirties, so it's not my size that is giving away my seniority.

I know quite a few people who are past 75, and the truth is, the ones who are healthiest have avoided becoming overweight. That's a quick impression, but I'm confident that a careful study would back it up.

Posted by: Ian Coleman at October 8th, 2015 8:05 AM

I am a former Nurse, and what I have found about there being no overweight elderly people is the fact that they lost weight. It's not that all the fat people died before they reached old age, but many folks that had weight problems in their 30's-50's would just naturally lose the weight starting in their 70's. As we age our appetite and need for sleep decreases, so do the things that cause great amounts of stress. In turn, cortisol amounts decrease (the hormone that can cause us to gain weight). Also, we just naturally eat less calories when we age. Keep in mind though that I have seen many, many THIN folks have problems with heart disease, because the participate in other risk factors such as smoking and eating a poor diet. I have also seen many overweight healthy people who's only risk factor for heart disease was their weight, and nover had any problems.

Posted by: Mamma Moon at October 19th, 2015 5:58 AM

I m just sitting and thingking about the exact same thin. Whre are the elderly fat people. I can't remember, wen had I ever seen one.

Posted by: Dominique Cox at February 12th, 2016 1:10 PM

Nobody here mentions drinking a gallon of water daily, and how that effects things?

Posted by: Chester at July 29th, 2016 10:33 AM

If you eat right and light and work out regularly you should live a long time.

Posted by: Jim Carlile at May 6th, 2018 6:17 AM

I believe that u can be chubby (not obese) and live into your 90s or even more and then u can be thin and not make it to like 60. It depends on many different factors. Anything can play a role such as the life a person lived or the environment they were in so I wouldn't agree that being thinner always means healthier.

Posted by: Alex at October 15th, 2018 9:46 PM

In the city of Nurnberg, there is a big public statue with the cycle of life shown on it - for a married couple. First they are both young and handsome and fit, then the woman starts getting hefty, then the man gets slowly chunky, then he starts getting thin and she gets even bigger, and finally he's very thin and old and she is big and soft. It was a series of statues around the fountain. I was impressed - very doubtful
We would put such painful truths in plain sight like that in our shopping areas! They were nude figures too.

Posted by: Mary McGarvey at November 15th, 2018 1:32 AM

skinney people live longer because the heart does not have to pummp blood as much as to fat peop;le but some people die because once your wife or husband dies you get depressed and that will make you die before your time

Posted by: george stotts at December 28th, 2018 6:46 AM

It may be good to distinguish between the merely obese and the morbidly obese - those with BMI 40+. It seems there are two factors at work here, and it also varies by gender. To some degree, there is a natural loss of body mass with old age, say, 80+. This would be the non-pathological factor. There is also the effect of accelerated senescence (deterioration and loss of function with age) seen in very obese. This results in disability and mortality, thus further reducing the population of these folks. This pathological process affects men more than women, who seem able to carry excess weight into their old age with less mortality. But these women pay the price with higher levels of morbidity, disability and poor quality of life. But even among them, how many extremely obese women do you see in their 90's? If you are 100 lbs overweight in your 70's what are the odds that you achieve normal weight in your 80's or beyond without some underlying disease process causing it? Among the oldest old, men are healthier than the women, although there are more women. Very obese men succumb to the attendant diseases of obesity before they get really old. Women manage to put this off longer, but eventually, it does seem that you don't see any 100 year old really fat people of either gender.

Posted by: Kenneth Zinn at February 5th, 2019 10:22 AM

I've seen elderly obese people
I've seen thin people go early
Heck babies die suddenly
Young people die suddenly
We are not in charge
I read these studies and think they only talk science
Well science is so limited
We go when our contract on earth is up
Rich, poor, thin, fat, old ,young, and way too young.
I have a feeling no matter what you do your quality of life is affected but not your quantity.
Besides who really wants to live to be old? And decrepit?
Be spiritual
Prepare for your death someday so you are not so scared
Modern society is so lacking in spirit
I despair

Posted by: Roseann at August 19th, 2019 6:35 PM

There are PLENTY of old fat people. ALL my old relatives were fat. They all made it to at least 80. My fat Great Aunt made it to 97, but suddenly lost weight in her 90s, a couple of years before she died.

Posted by: Robin at September 5th, 2019 11:13 PM

The title reminds me of tge okd saying, "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." Which, is an outright lie.

Posted by: Geary at October 4th, 2019 8:24 PM

I have seen older people overweight but they tend to be women. The very old over 95 tend to be thin. That is my experience. Also, the people that were never thin when they were young never seem to be able to lose weight easily.

Posted by: Chris at July 6th, 2020 11:59 AM

I'm now an 86 year old man, but in trimmest physical condition. My weight is about 160 lbs, and I work out physically every morning, walking our steep rural driveway in western Dane County Wisconsin, 20 minutes with my equally trim 72 year old wife, Stefanija Prasnjak Harris. I quit smoking more than 40 years ago. Likewise Stefi. And there's no fat either on me or on Stefi whatsoever. Maintaining a rural property requires a lot of physical labor. So my wife and I and our eldest son Israel Harris are kept busy with physical work.

I served in the US Army for three years during and after the Korean War in the early 1950s. I served in a heavy artillery unit, involving a lot of physical labor. On the other hand, my sister Andrea Diane Supler, who was seven years younger than me, never gave up smoking, and that habit killed her about 15 years ago. But my father, Max Harris, a US Army veteran who served in World War I, smoked endlessly, but lived to 86 years. So I can't meaningfully generalize the experiences of all the members of our family.

Posted by: Arnold Harris at July 16th, 2020 12:22 PM

I deliberately gained weight right after I got married because my husband loves fat women - and still does! I've been almost exactly 245 pounds for over 30 years. We are both healthy and happy at age 77 and 76.

Posted by: Julia M. at August 14th, 2020 1:22 PM

I was always normal weight in my life, and in some cases when I was a runner I was very thin ( belly button went from an inney to an outie when I ran a lot - but when I stopped and had to do a lot of sedentary work I gained weight and have not been able to take it off, and afraid to run or exercise a lot because of stress on my bones. ( not necessarily my heart or lungs )

In my life I have seen our ideals moving around with little evidence, and a lot of things we took for granted are just not true.

I don't know what to think. Functionality is more important than weight ... but weight is not attractive to most of us. Aging sucks.

This thing someone else wrote ... I just hope it is not true ...

> One other thing: I have heard more than one person who was more than eighty
> give out the opinion that death before eighty is a reasonable strategy
> for maximizing happiness.

The problem is that in all our business and economic efforts we seem to not be able to run a prosperous economy in the US unless you take advantage of the worst in human nature and make people sick or kill them. I sure hope something changes before I get really old, or really fat.

Posted by: Bruce from Palo Alto at October 20th, 2020 3:52 PM

Queen Elizabeth is not thin and she is 96 years old. I doubt she is working out either. Everyone is different and genetics plays the biggest factor in longevity. I'm overweight but am active at 60 with no health problems or no medications. Everything aches though which is very disheartening.

Posted by: Jan Perry at April 28th, 2022 9:20 PM

Queen Elizabeth is not thin and she is 96 years old. I doubt she is working out either. Everyone is different and genetics plays the biggest factor in longevity. I'm overweight but am active at 60 with no health problems, and take no medications. Everything aches though which is very disheartening.

Posted by: Jan Perry at April 28th, 2022 9:22 PM

When my Mom, who was obsessed with being thin her whole life, died at 92, she could not hear, see, taste or walk or bathe unaided. I'll take some fat in exchange for dying at a reasonable age of, say, 75 instead of waiting as God breaks off pieces of me, one at a time. Eat the cookie!

Posted by: Josiah at June 20th, 2022 10:14 PM

We are all going to die of something someday, whether quickly of heart disease or pulmonary ailments, or slowly of cancer or other debilitating ailments. Few of us can expect to live a full, healthy, long life and then just die peacefully in our sleep unexpectedly. And what use is it to outlive the amount of money we have to live the kind of lifestyle we are accustomed to? Unless we have some sort of income to outstrip inflation long into retirement, our savings and investments will dwindle and suffer the ravages of bear markets, RMDs, inflation, and assisted living/nursing home costs. When the money runs out, there is no justification to continue living a reduced lifestyle subsidized by our children or government. Therefore, my conclusion is: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all shall die. Assisted suicide should be available to all seniors who want it, not just the terminally ill.

Posted by: mary at August 12th, 2022 3:19 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.