FYI Daily

Another Clue to Disabling Falls: Obesity

Last updated: Dec 27, 2011

Falling down

The common image of someone vulnerable to dangerous falls is a thin, frail older adult. Rethink that one -- and keep a watchful eye on your loved one and his or her living space if the person is obese. A new study indicates that obese people actually suffer disabling falls more than their thinner counterparts.

People who are obese may have a harder time with balance and may be less able to react quickly to brace themselves after losing their footing, researcher Christine L. Himes of Syracuse University told Reuters Health.

Being obese led to between 12 percent and 50 percent more falls than experienced by normal-weight adults who were tracked. And those falls were more likely to result in injuries. Obese adults with a (Body Mass Index) BMI of 30 to 30.9 were 17 percent more likely to suffer a fall that caused disabilities than normal-weight peers. And those with a BMI of 35 and 39.9 were 39 percent more likely to have disability-causing falls.

Himes says that being obese may make it harder to recover from a fall, and means the person is likely in poorer physical health to begin with.

Interestingly, only the most severely obese -- with a BMI of 40 or higher -- suffered fewer injuries. Extreme fat, it seems, has a protective effect, possibly cushioning falls. That translates to being about 100 pounds overweight for a man, 80 pounds overweight for a woman. (Of course, there are other health risks to such extreme obesity that outweigh, no pun intended, this benefit.)

More than 10,000 subjects ages 65 and up were studied between 1998 and 2006. The results appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

These fall prevention strategies can help older adults of any weight avoid the health risks associated with falling. Also find out what to do if a person in your care falls.