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Body Mass Index (BMI) for Seniors

Body mass index, or BMI, refers to the measurement of body fat based on height and weight. It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the body height, and is expressed through kilograms. In this post, we will review what you need to know about body mass index for seniors, including BMI range for seniors and why BMI may not always be the most accurate assessment of weight.

What Is A Healthy BMI for Seniors?

According to the National Library of Medicine, the normal BMI for elderly is 31–32 and 27–28 kg/m2 for women and men, respectively. However, recent studies have determined that these numbers are not necessarily an accurate representation of overall health. According to a study published by researchers from Rutgers Institute for Health, traditional BMI figures are based on small sample sizes and minimally diverse populations.

Is BMI for Elderly People Accurate?

BMI may underestimate body fat in people who do not have much muscle tissue. This makes BMI for the elderly especially problematic. Human bodies change with age and older adults may have more fatty tissue than younger people. A higher BMI, in that case, may be associated with greater energy stores and a better nutritional state.

What Are the Benefits of a Higher BMI for Seniors?

Research indicates that a higher BMI for seniors has shown decreased mortality rates. Furthermore, being overweight or obese at age 65 was only rarely linked to lower life expectancy or problematic health outcomes compared to those who were at a healthy weight at age 65. In fact, the lowest risk of mortality was found in older adults in the mid-normal, overweight, and lower obese ranges. Other benefits of higher BMI for seniors include:

  • Improved social and emotional health. The Korean Journal of Family Medicine conducted interviews with 542 people with the average age of 74 and determined that social functioning and emotional health did not decrease with a higher BMI in older adults.

  • Improved cognition and functioning. In a study of the Colombian population, BMC Geriatrics found that being underweight was associated with reduced cognitive performance and daily functioning. Furthermore, being overweight was associated with better cognition and daily functioning.

  • More independence. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that seniors with high BMIs did not experience a decline in daily living.

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What Are the Dangers of Low BMI in Older Adults?

A lower BMI for older people can be associated with being underweight, which can increase the risk of problems such as osteoporosis (when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases) and anemia (when blood produces a lower-than-normal amount of healthy red blood cells). Additionally, a lower BMI makes it more difficult to recover from illness and disease. It has even been reported that underweight stroke survivors have worse outcomes than those who are overweight or underweight. Additionally, conditions such as cancer, neurological disease, or gastrointestinal disease can prevent seniors from eating and receiving nutrients. Experts actually recommend that older adults should do everything they can not to lose weight.

Final Thoughts

Although BMI is a consideration to determine overall health in the elderly, it should not be the sole factor. Bone mass, excess fat, muscle, lifestyle, and family history are also components that help provide a comprehensive picture of senior health. Specific medical concerns that you suspect may be BMI-related should be discussed with a physician who will review all contributing factors to identify the extent to which BMI plays a part.