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The Gerontologist 45:438-444 (2005)
© 2005 The Gerontological Society of America

The Impact of Obesity on Active Life Expectancy in Older American Men and Women

Sandra L. Reynolds, PhD1,, Yasuhiko Saito, PhD2 and Eileen M. Crimmins, PhD3

Correspondence: Address correspondence to Dr. Sandra L. Reynolds, USF School of Aging Studies, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., MHC 1344, Tampa, FL 33620. E-mail: sreynold{at}

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to estimate the effect of obesity on both the length of life and length of nondisabled life for older Americans. Design and Methods: Using data from the first 3 waves of the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) survey, this article develops estimates of total, active, and disabled life expectancy for obese and nonobese older men and women. We used the Interpolation of Markov Chains (IMaCh) method to estimate the average number of years obese and nonobese older persons can expect to live with and without activity of daily living (ADL) disability. Results: Our findings indicate that obesity has little effect on life expectancy in adults aged 70 years and older. However, the obese are more likely to become disabled. This means that obese older adults live both more years and a higher proportion of their remaining lives disabled. Implications: The lack of significant differences in life expectancy by obesity status among the old suggests that obesity-related death is less of a concern than disability in this age range. Given steady increases in obesity among Americans at all ages, future disability rates may be higher than anticipated among older U.S. adults. In order to reduce disability among future cohorts of older adults, more research is needed on the causes and treatment of obesity and evaluations done on interventions to accomplish and maintain weight loss.

Key Words: ADL disability • Obesity • IMaCh • Multistate life tables

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