The effects of obesity mirror those of aging

March 1, 2020

Listen to this article

The effects of obesity mirror those of aging

Globally, an estimated 1.9 billion adults and 380 million children are overweight or obese. According to the WHO, more people are dying from being overweight than underweight. Now the whole idea of obesity is being rethought.


In a paper published in the journal Obesity Reviews,researchers argue that obesity should be considered premature aging. They look at how obesity predisposes people to acquiring the kinds of potentially life-altering or life-threatening diseases normally seen in older individuals: compromised genomes, weakened immune systems, decreased cognition, increased chances of developing type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses.


The researchers reviewed more than 200 papers that looked at obesity’s effects, from the level of cell to tissue to the entire body.


What the researchers say: “We are trying to comprehensively make the argument that obesity parallels aging,” explains the lead author. “Indeed, the mechanisms by which the commodities of obesity and aging develop are very similar.”


The paper looks at how obesity ages the body from several different perspectives. Many previous studies have already linked obesity to premature death. But the researchers note that at the most basic levels obesity's a factor that directly accelerates aging.


For instance, they looked at the processes of cell death and the maintenance of healthy cells—apoptosis and autophagy—that are usually associated with aging.


Studies have shown that obesity-induced apoptosis has been seen in hearts, livers, kidneys, neurons (brain cells), inner ears and retinas.Obesity also inhibits autophagy (the process of cleaning out damaged cells to regenerate new ones), which can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.


At the genetic level, the researchers write that obesity influences several alterations associated with aging. These include the shortening of protective caps found on the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres. Telomeres in patients with obesity can be more than 25 per cent shorter than those seen in control patients, for instance.


The researchers further point out that obesity’s effects on cognitive decline, mobility, hypertension and stress are all like those of aging.


On the larger scale, obesity plays a significant role in the body’s fight against age-related diseases. Obesity, they write, speeds up the aging of the immune system by targeting different immune cells, and that later weight reduction will not always reverse the process.


The effects of obesity on the immune system, in turn, affect susceptibility to diseases like influenza, which often affects patients with obesity at a higher rate than normal-weight individuals. They are also at higher risk of sarcopenia, a disease usually associated with aging that features a progressive decline in muscle mass and strength.


Finally, the paper spells out how individuals with obesity are more susceptible to diseases closely associated with later-life onset, such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and various forms of cancer.


“I’m hoping that these observations will focus our approach to understanding obesity a little more, and at the same time allow us to think of obesity in different ways,” said the lead author. “We’re asking different types of questions than that which have traditionally been asked.”


So, what? Given this, and similar studies, how nonsensical is it for the DT administration to class French fries as a health food for kids and loosen the regulations governing school meals? Obviously,this will please GOP donors but like the loosening of the clean air and water regulations will shorten the lives of our children.


Another problem, of course, is that sugar and fat are highly addictive substances. Therefore, almost all fast foods are laced with them.Also, they’re cheap. Those with less income tend to consume more of them. Talk about profiting from death.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

Join the discussion

You might be interested in

Back to Today's Research
No items found.

Join our tribe

Subscribe to Dr. Bob Murray’s Today’s Research, a free weekly roundup of the latest research in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Explore leadership, strategy, culture, business and social trends, and executive health.

Thank you for subscribing.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Check your details and try again.