• Activities of daily living;
  • body mass index;
  • disability;
  • obesity


This study examined the relationship between normal weight, overweight and obesity class I and II+, and the risk of disability, which is defined as impairment in activities of daily living (ADL). Systematic searching of the literature identified eight cross-sectional studies and four longitudinal studies that were comparable for meta-analysis. An additional four cross-sectional studies and one longitudinal study were included for qualitative review. Results from the meta-analysis of cross-sectional studies revealed a graded increase in the risk of ADL limitations from overweight (1.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.00–1.08), class I obesity (1.16, 95% CI 1.11–1.21) and class II+ obesity (1.76, 95% CI 1.28–2.41), relative to normal weight. Meta-analyses of longitudinal studies revealed a similar graded relationship; however, the magnitude of this relationship was slightly greater for all body mass index categories. Qualitative analysis of studies that met the inclusion criteria but were not compatible for meta-analysis supported the pooled results. No studies identified met all of the pre-defined quality criteria, and subgroup analysis was inhibited due to insufficient comparable studies. We conclude that increasing body weight increases the risk of disability in a graded manner, but also emphasize the need for additional studies using contemporary longitudinal cohorts with large numbers of obese class III individuals, a range of ages and with measured height and weight, and incident ADL questions.