The last decade has welcomed, with open arms, a new epidemic: obesity. Currently in the United States, more than one-third of adults, 35.7%, and approximately 17% of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is not only a problem in the US but also worldwide with its prevalence doubling in high income and economically advanced countries and is also growing in under-developed areas. Its incidence rate is continually increasing with each successive generation and in each age group, including the elderly (Byles, 2009; Dorner and Rieder, 2011).
An individual is often labeled “obese” when his or her weight is greater than what is considered to be healthy for his or her given height. The individual’s body mass index (BMI) is a reliable indicator of body fat and is calculated using his or her height and weight. Usually, an adult with a BMI of 30 or higher is classified as obese, whereas a BMI less than 18.5 is underweight, a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is normal weight, and a BMI of 25-29.9 is overweight (Dorner and Rieder, 2011).
Furthermore, the Council of the Obesity Society has officially declared obesity as a disease. It has been found to be a risk factor for the development of a number of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and especially cardiovascular diseases like heart failure, ischemic heart diseases, abnormal left ventricular geometry, endothelial dysfunction, systolic and diastolic dysfunction, and atrial fibrillation (Dorner and Rieder, 2011). Moreover, obesity is associated with increased mortality rate, reduced longevity, and premature death (Childers and Allison, 2010). Various concerns involving obesity and the aging population also involve infections, functional limitations, lack of independence, decreased mobility, and handicaps regarding activities of daily living (Dorner and Rieder, 2011). Those with higher BMI have also been linked to having poor mental health (Byles, 2009).
On a molecular level, fat tissue is normally the largest organ in humans and is involved in mechanisms and pathways that deal with longevity. Fat tissue is not only involved in energy storage but is also important in immune and endocrine function, thermoregulation, mechanical protection, and tissue regeneration (Tchkonia et al., 2010). Adipose tissue is able to protect against infection and trauma. It is also able to produce and activate hormones, including IL-6, IGF-1, and glucocorticoids, as well as prevent heat loss (Tchkonia et al., 2010). Throughout life, changes in fat distribution and function is constantly occurring and in older individuals, these changes correspond to a number of health disorders like hypertension, cancers, cognitive dysfunction, and diseases like diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes, as previously noted (Tchkonia et al., 2010). As people age, their body composition increases in fat mass and decreases in muscle mass, regardless of their body weight or BMI (Dorner and Rieder, 2011).
As more research is...