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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Dieting to lose weight may not help older overweight adults to live any longer, but losing a little weight on purpose also does not seem to cause any harm, according to a study.
Previous studies had raised concerns that losing weight might be harmful to older adults, since some research had linked dropping weight to a higher rate of death.
"There is a general sense in geriatrics... that weight loss is a bad thing," said study author Stephen Kritchevsky, at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
"There's been a little bit of a conundrum on whether it's a wise thing or not to ask an overweight older adult to lose weight."
But Kritchevsky added that research linking older adults and weight loss to the higher rates of death may well be due to the fact that unintentional weight loss in the elderly is often due to an underlying illness.
For the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Kritchevsky and his colleagues looked at data from a past study of overweight and obese adults with high blood pressure, some of whom had received training and counseling to help them lose weight and keep it off.
Participants in the weight-loss group lost close to 10 pounds, on average, while those who were told to modify the amount or salt in their diets or to not change their diets at all lost about two pounds.
Twelve years later, the researchers used national death records to figure out which of the original participants were still alive. By then they would have been in their late 70s, on average.
Out of about 600 people split between the weight-loss and non-weight-loss programs, about 50 died in each group. When the researchers took into account factors such as age, race and smoking, participants assigned to lose weight weren't any more or less likely to die during the follow-up than those not in the weight-loss group.
When analyzed separately from women, men from the weight-loss assignment group did seem to have a lower risk of death than those who hadn't tried to drop any extra pounds. But the researchers weren't sure why that was the case and warned it would have to be tested again in a larger study.
For now, Kritchevsky said the findings were a "reassuring message that weight loss is potentially beneficial regardless of your age, if you're overweight or obese."
He added that even if losing weight doesn't add years to an elderly person's life, it can have many other health benefits, such as easing disease risks, making activities like walking up the stairs easier, and reducing osteoarthritis pain. SOURCE: bit.ly/mYPSpV
Reporting by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health, editing by Elaine Lies