Body weight status and onset of functional limitations in U.S. middle-aged and older adults

Ruopeng An, Ph.D.Yuyan Shi, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal
Published July 2015, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages 336–344



The sweeping obesity epidemic could further increase the incidence of functional limitations in the U.S. rapidly aging population.


To examine the relationship between body weight status and onset of functional limitations in U.S. middle-aged and older adults.


Study sample came from 1992 to 2010 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated from self-reported height/weight. Functional limitations were classified into physical mobility limitation (PM), large muscle function limitation (LMF), activities of daily living limitation (ADL), gross motor function limitation (GMF), and fine motor function limitation (FMF). Mixed-effect logistic regressions were performed to estimate the relationship between prior-wave body weight status and current-wave onset of functional limitations, adjusted for individual characteristics and survey design.


Prior-wave body weight status prospectively predicted onset of functional limitation, and the relationship showed a U-shaped pattern. Compared with their normal weight counterparts, the odds ratios (ORs) in underweight (BMI < 18.5) and obese (BMI ≥ 30) adults were 1.30 (95% confidence interval, 1.05–1.62) and 2.31 (2.11–2.52) for PM, 1.20 (0.96–1.50) and 1.63 (1.49–1.79) for LMF, 2.02 (1.66–2.46) and 1.40 (1.28–1.54) for ADL, 1.96 (1.60–2.39) and 1.77 (1.62–1.93) for GMF, and 1.66 (1.37–2.02) and 1.34 (1.22–1.46) for FMF, respectively. For PM, LMF and GMF, the impact of obesity appeared more pronounced in women, whereas that of underweight more pronounced in men.


Proper weight management during aging is crucial in preventing functional limitations in middle-aged and older adults.