Objective: To study whether walking limitation at old age is determined by obesity history.
Research Methods and Procedures: In a retrospective longitudinal study based on a representative sample of the Finnish population of 55 years and older (2055 women and 1337 men), maximal walking speed, body mass, and body height were measured in a health examination. Walking limitation was defined as walking speed <1.2 m/s or difficulty in walking 0.5 km. Recalled height at 20 years of age and recalled weight at 20, 30, 40, and 50 years of age were recorded.
Results: Subjects who had been obese at the age of 30, 40, or 50 years had almost a 4-fold higher risk of walking limitation compared to non-obese. Obesity duration increased the age- and gender-adjusted risk of walking limitation among those who had been obese since the age of 50 (odds ratio, 4.33; 95% confidence interval, 2.59 to 7.23, n = 114), among the obese since the age of 40 [6.01 (2.55 to 14.14), n = 39], and among the obese since the age of 30 [8.97 (3.06 to 26.29), n = 14]. The risk remained elevated even among those who had previously been obese but lost weight during their midlife or late adulthood [3.15 (1.63 to 6.11), n = 71].
Discussion: Early onset of obesity and obesity duration increased the risk of walking limitation, and the effect was only partially mediated through current BMI and higher risk of obesity-related diseases. Preventing excess weight gain throughout one's life course is an important goal in order to promote good health and functioning in older age.