Is being obese similar to being old? Both make the body vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, researchers say

| March 6, 2020
obesity ageing
Credit: Motortion
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Globally, an estimated 1.9 billion adults and 380 million children are overweight or obese. According to the World Health Organization, more people are dying from being overweight than underweight. Researchers at Concordia are urging health authorities to rethink their approach to obesity.

In their paper published in the journal Obesity Reviews, the researchers argue that obesity should be considered premature aging. They look at how obesity predisposes people to acquiring the kinds of potentially life-altering or life-threatening diseases normally seen in older individuals: compromised genomes, weakened immune systems, decreased cognition, increased chances of developing type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses.

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At the genetic level, the researchers write that obesity influences a number of alterations associated with aging. These include the shortening of protective caps found on the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres. Telomeres in patients with obesity can be more than 25 per cent shorter than those seen in control patients, for instance.

“I ask people to list as many comorbidities of obesity as they can,” Santosa says. “Then I ask how many of those comorbidities are associated with aging. Most people will say, all of them. There is certainly something that is happening in obesity that is accelerating our aging process.'”

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