Trends in the Relationship of Obesity and Disability, 1988-2012

Virginia Chang, Dawn Alley, Jennifer Beam Dowd

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29 Citations (Scopus)
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Rising obesity rates coupled with population aging have elicited serious concern over the impact of obesity on disability in later life. Prior work showed a significant increase in the association between obesity and disability from 1988-2004, calling attention to disability as the cost of longer lifetime exposure to obesity. It is not known whether this trend has continued. We examined functional impairment and activities of daily living (ADL) impairmant (defined as severe and moderate to severe) for adults aged 60 and older (N=16770) over 3 periods in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The relative odds of impairment for obese vs. normal weight individuals significantly increased from period 1 (1988-1994) to period 2 (1999-2004) for all outcomes. In period 3 (2005-2012), this association remained stable for functional and severe ADL impairment, and decreased for moderate to severe ADL impairment. The fraction of population disability attributable to obesity followed a similar trend. The trend of an increasing association between obesity and disability has leveled off in more recent years, and is even improving for some measures. These findings suggest that public health and policy concerns that obesity would continue to get more disabling over time have not been borne out.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Early online date28 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2017


  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)


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