Weight, worry and wallet predict functional limitations in middle-age women

November 06, 2001

Obese middle-age women are nearly twice as likely to have substantial physical limitations than women of average weight, according to a new study.

The study also reports that women in their 40s and 50s who report a high level of stress, those who cannot afford to buy basic necessities and those who have certain medical problems are more likely to have trouble with daily activities such as bathing, carrying groceries or climbing stairs.

The study by Sandra K. Pope, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Arkansas for Medical Services and published in the September/October edition of Women's Health Issues, was based on a national survey of more than 16,000 women between 40 and 55. They were asked about their physical function as related to their ability to carry out activities including bathing, dressing, carrying groceries, bending, moderate and vigorous activities, walking and climbing stairs.

"Consistent with findings in older women, the significant relationship of numerous risk factors with functional limitations in this sample of women at midlife supports the premise that behavioral and environmental factors, as well as disease conditions, are involved in reducing functioning in women at midlife," says Pope.

Eighty-one percent of the women were classified as having no functional limitations, 10 percent were classified as having moderate limitations and 9 percent as having substantial limitations.

Obese women were nearly twice as likely to have substantial limitations than average-weight women. Women who had a very hard time paying for basics were also twice as likely to have substantial limitations as women who had no trouble paying for necessities such as food, housing and health care.

Women with medical conditions such as heart problems, arthritis and osteoporosis were as much as three to four times more likely to be substantially limited in their function compared with healthy women.

This study did not find that smoking was associated with more functional limitation. The researchers hypothesize that this might be a product of smokers quitting after developing health problems.
The data are from the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, a seven-site study funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Women's Health Issues (WHI) is the official publication of The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health and the only journal devoted to women's health issues at the medical/social interface. It is a journal for health professionals, social scientists, policy makers and others concerned with the complex and diverse facets of health care delivery to women. WHI publishes peer-reviewed articles as well as position papers and reports from conferences and workshops sponsored by The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. For information about the journal, contact Warren H. Pearse, MD, at (202) 863-2454.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/cfah/. For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, iallen@cfah.org (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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