Dr. Virginia Chang, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences and interim chair of social and behavioral sciences at New York University College of Global Public Health has new research, Trends in the Relationship Between Obesity and Disability, 1988 – 2012, just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, .
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 to 2004, calling attention to disability as a cost of longer lifetime exposure to obesity. It is not yet known whether this trend has continued. Dr. Chang examined functional impairment and impairment in activities of daily living (ADL) (defined as severe or moderate to severe) for adults aged 60 years or older (n = 16,770) over three time periods in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The relative odds of impairment for obese individuals versus 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 become more disabling over time have not been borne out.