Weight-modification trials in older adults: what should the outcome measure be?
Newman, Anne B.
Jackson, Sharon A.
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Background: Overweight older adults are often counseled to lose weight, even though there is little evidence of excess mortality in that age group. Overweight and underweight may be more associated with health status than with mortality, but few clinical trials of any kind have been based on maximizing years of healthy life (YHL), as opposed to years of life (YOL). Objective: This paper examines the relationship of body mass index (BMI) to both YHL and YOL. Results were used to determine whether clinical trials of weight-modification based on improving YHL would be more powerful than studies based on survival. Design: We used data from a cohort of 4,878 non-smoking men and women aged 65–100 at baseline (mean age 73) and followed 7 years. We estimated mean YHL and YOL in four categories of BMI: underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. Results: Subjects averaged 6.3 YOL and 4.6 YHL of a possible 7 years. Both measures were higher for women and whites. For men, none of the BMI groups was significantly different from the normal group on either YOL or YHL. For women, the obese had significantly lower YHL (but not YOL) than the normals, and the underweight had significantly lower YOL and YHL. The overweight group was not significantly different from the normal group on either measure. Conclusions: Clinical trials of weight loss interventions for obese older women would require fewer participants if YHL rather than YOL was the outcome measure. Interventions for obese men or for the merely overweight are not likely to achieve differences in either YOL or YHL. Evaluations of interventions for the underweight (which would presumably address the causes of their low weight) may be conducted efficiently using either outcome measure.