There is a “looming health crisis” facing England as the vast majority of people entering old age are overweight, experts have said.
New figures show that almost three quarters of people aged 45 to 74 in England are either overweight or obese.
Young adults are the only age group which have a normal average body mass index (BMI), according to new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
“These figures show that there is a looming health crisis for the nation”
The National Obesity Forum warned that figures showed a large proportion of the population will face significant problems as they enter old age.
Forum spokesman Tam Fry said: “These figures show that there is a looming health crisis for the nation.
“If you think that obesity is just for the young and the middle aged then you are wrong,” he said. “There needs to be a clear message that everybody needs to take control and watch what they are eating.”
He warned that many overweight elderly people are in a “catch 22” situation because they are suffering a combination of problems linked to being overweight and muscle wastage − so they cannot exercise to improve their health.
The HSCIC figures show that there is a rising tide in the proportion of people who are overweight or obese.
At least seven in 10 people in England aged 45 and over are either overweight or obese. And the average BMI measurement of those aged 45 to 74 stood at 28.3 − those with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered to be overweight.
Professor Martin Severs, a geriatrician from Portsmouth and HSCIC lead clinician, said: “Obesity is going to have a lot of short to medium effects around diabetes and heart disease.
“And then you have got long term issues because your body will be carrying around a lot more weight, you then go on to suffer problems such as arthritis and having difficulty breathing,” he said. “There is a whole set of second-order things as a consequence of weight.”
The charity Age UK warned that public health measures are mostly aimed at younger and not older people.
Ruthe Isden, health influencing programme director at the charity, said: “Historically public health approaches have been very focused on children and it’s all about getting them while they are young and if you are old then ‘it’s a bit late to bother’.
“There is a really important need to turn some of that around and actually start talking to people about how it’s never too late to adopt healthy behaviours.”
She said just a “tiny” proportion of older people get the recommended amounts of exercise, adding: “In the 75-plus population it’s something as low as 4% of people getting their recommended weekly amounts of exercise so we do have a really big issue here with obesity and inactivity.”
The new HSCIC data, which focuses on the health and care of older people also shows that the population aged 65 and over is rapidly rising.
In 1951, 4.5 million people were aged 65 and above but by 2051 this number is expected to rise to 16.6 million.
While people in this age bracket account for just one in six of the population, they take up one in every two hospital beds, the figures show.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “There is no easy answer to reducing obesity; it is a complex issue that requires action at individual, family, local and national levels.
“PHE is committed to helping tackle overweight and obesity in adults of all ages through a range of approaches that support action on the local environment to make eating less and being more physically active easier, with many local authorities already working hard to achieve this.”