A senior couple and their adult daughter on a city sidewalk outside stores. The man is sitting in a wheelchair, looking up at his wife with a serious expression. U.S. obesity is slowing gains in life expectancy and widening racial health disparities. New research examines the health impact and social consequences of obesity to inform intervention and prevention strategies.

Issue 42 of Today’s Research on Aging, Rising Obesity in an Aging America, was written by Mark Mather and Paola Scommegna of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).

Obesity rates have risen dramatically in recent years, nearly doubling among older U.S. adults to include two in every five Americans ages 65 and older. For individuals, prolonged obesity increases the risk of chronic disease, disability, and early death, along with high health care costs and greater odds of needing nursing home care.

Addressing the obesity epidemic will require attention to both individual behaviors and contextual factors such as socioeconomic disparities and burdens of discrimination. These behaviors and factors contribute to differences in obesity prevalence across populations.

This issue of PRB’s Today’s Research on Aging (Issue 42) examines recently published work of researchers supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) who are probing the health impact and social consequences of obesity. Understanding these dynamics can inform more effective intervention and prevention strategies and enable policymakers and health care administrators to plan for the challenges ahead.

The NIA-funded studies summarized in this report provide evidence that supports research and investment in a variety of approaches to prevent and address obesity, including:

  • Reduce the availability and consumption of ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages, especially in schools.
  • Improve food security, especially among families with children.
  • Expand proven school, community, and workplace programs for improving diet and physical activity, particularly those that target youth and young adults.
  • Ensure that all adults, especially those with obesity, are screened and treated for risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
  • Address the wide range of racial and ethnic disparities related to stress and differences in access to health care, healthy food, and opportunities for physical activity.