Elderly get message on diet and exercise

23:00, Mar 13 2014

A "vicious circle" of weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles is behind seniors' bulging waistlines in the MidCentral District Health Board region.

New data was released this week by the Ministry of Health showing the New Zealand Health Survey broken down by district health board.

About one-third of the 65-plus age group was found to be obese, with 33.9 per cent of respondents having a body mass index of 30 or more.

The national rate was 32 per cent.

In the same age group, only 36.4 per cent of seniors in MidCentral met the survey's physical activity guidelines. Nationally, 43.1 per cent met the guidelines.

UCOL's associate professor in health science, Lukas Dreyer, said older people were often caught in a cycle of inactivity and weight gain.


More than 700 overweight and unwell older people have been referred to Dr Dreyer's U-Kinetic wellness programme in the past two years.

"International data says people tend to gain about 1 kilogram of body weight per year after leaving school, unless you make a concerted effort to maintain it," he said.

"As we grow older it becomes increasingly harder to maintain that weight and as you gain weight you don't enjoy activity any more, so it becomes a vicious circle and you do less and less.

"About five years ago scientists predicted that by 2030, 100 per cent of the American population would be obese and New Zealand basically reflects those same trends, so this is part of an ongoing problem that is going to get worse."

Dr Dreyer said it was not just a lack of activity behind senior obesity - diet played a part too.

"About 22 per cent of our overall group can be classified as grade 3 obese, a BMI over 40, then there is another 43 per cent with grade 2 obesity," he said.

"Quite a few people with us lose up to 20kg in 24 weeks, so it's not just the activity, it's the dietary changes and combinations we make - cutting down on carbs and sugar and stopping the in-between eating."

Palmerston North based dietitian, Gaye Philpott from Nutrition Matters, said it was heartening to see a high percentage of respondents aged 65 plus meeting both vegetable and fruit intakes.

In MidCentral, 81.7 per cent of senior respondents ate the recommended three servings of vegetables, and 67.6 ate the recommended two servings of fruit.

Nationally, 74.7 per cent ate three servings of vegetables, and 65.7 per cent ate two servings of fruit.

Ms Philpott said seniors were an age group at risk of malnutrition and a healthy lifestyle should be maintained.

"One of the biggest concerns in the older age group [80 plus] . . . is malnutrition . . . because of poor appetite, chronic health issues, co-morbidity, frailty and weight loss," she said.

"For older people, their nutrient needs - vitamins and minerals - is the same as or greater than what they needed when they were younger.

"I'm not endorsing being obese but our biggest concentration of effort is working with people who are frail and underweight."

Manawatu Standard