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.
In a new study, researchers argue that obesity should be considered premature aging.
The research was conducted by a team at Concordia.
The team looked at how obesity predisposes people to acquire 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.
They reviewed more than 200 papers that looked at obesity’s effects, from the level of the cell to tissue to the entire body.
The paper looks at ways obesity ages the body from several different perspectives. Many previous studies have already linked obesity to premature death.
But the researchers note that at the lowest levels inside the human body, obesity is a factor that directly accelerates the mechanisms of aging.
For instance, the team looked at the processes of cell death and the maintenance of healthy cells—apoptosis and autophagy, respectively—that are usually associated with aging.
Studies have shown that obesity-induced apoptosis has been seen in mice hearts, livers, kidneys, neurons, inner ears, and retinas.
Obesity also inhibits autophagy, which can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
At the genetic level, the researchers found 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 percent shorter than those seen in control patients, for instance.
The team further pointed out that obesity’s effects on cognitive decline, mobility, hypertension and stress are all similar to those of aging.
Pulling out from the cellular level, the researchers say obesity plays a significant role in the body’s fight against age-related diseases.
Obesity speeds up the aging of the immune system by targeting different immune cells, and that later weight reduction will not always reverse the process.
The effects of obesity on the immune system, in turn, affect susceptibility to diseases like influenza, which often affects patients with obesity at a higher rate than normal-weight individuals.
They are also at higher risk of sarcopenia, a disease usually associated with aging that features a progressive decline in muscle mass and strength.
Finally, the paper spells out how individuals with obesity are more susceptible to diseases closely associated with later-life onsets, such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and various forms of cancer.
This study was inspired by the fact that many children with obesity were developing adult-onset conditions of diseases, such as hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
It will help people better understand how obesity works and stimulate ideas on how to treat it.
The lead author of the study is Sylvia Santosa, an associate professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology.
The study is published in Obesity Reviews.
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