Wetenschap - 7 februari 2002

Weight loss in elderly a bad omen

Weight loss in elderly a bad omen

People in their seventies who lose weight without going on a diet may have cause to worry. Researchers in Wageningen discovered this when analyzing data from over six hundred elderly Europeans.

"People in their seventies who lose five kilos or more over a period of four years were twice as likely to die as age mates whose weight had remained the same," says Dr Lisette de Groot of the sub-department of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology.

Those at risk form a considerable group. About a quarter of the six hundred people in the study are at risk. De Groot cannot say in which countries the elderly are worst off. "What you do see is that elderly people in southern European countries are relatively heavier. This group could be better off."

De Groot's research is part of the Seneca Project, in which researchers are following a group of elderly people from eleven European cities, all born between 1913 and 1918. Data collection started in 1989. The people who were still participating in 1999 had shrunk in height by two centimetres, and on average their waist measurement had increased by four centimetres. "As people age their fat deposits move to the stomach area," explains De Groot. "In young people this is unhealthy. Whether the same is true of the elderly we do not yet know."

Willem Koert

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