The fatter, the better in old age: the current understanding of a difficult relationship

Type Article

Journal Article


G. Fonseca; S. von Haehling

Year of publication



Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care








PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Obesity has shown a protective effect on mortality in older adults, also known as the obesity paradox, but there are still controversies about this relationship. RECENT FINDINGS: Recent studies have shown a J or U-shaped relationship between BMI and mortality, wherein an optimal range is described between 22 and 37 kg/m2 depending on the condition. Many mechanisms can explain this protective effect of higher BMI, fat/muscle mass storage, more aggressive treatment in obese individuals, loss of bone mineral content and selection bias. However, BMI must be used with caution due to its limitations to determine body composition and fat distribution. SUMMARY: Although BMI is an easy tool to evaluate obesity, its protective effect may be present to certain extend, from normal range to class I obesity (BMI 30-34.9 kg/m2), but then it becomes detrimental. Skeletal muscle mass and muscle function associated with adipose tissue assessment can add valuable information in the risk stratification. Further studies should be performed prospectively, adjust BMI for cofounding variable and consider other elderly subpopulations. To promote healthy ageing, excessive fat mass should be avoided and maintenance or improvement of skeletal muscle mass and muscle function should be stimulated in older adults.