Obese seniors can live as long as thinner older adults but with an increased risk of developing heart disease, a new study found.

While obese older adults can live more of their "golden years," new findings suggested that they are also more likely to develop heart disease earlier in life.

According to Dr. Klodian Dhana, the study's lead author, even if obesity does not shorten older people's life spans, heart disease can "take a serious toll on their lives."

In the study, the research team analyzed the data of 6,636 male and female participants who were aged 55 years old and above.

The participants underwent first examinations between 1990 and 1993. In the next 12 years, they were subjected to regular follow-ups.

The research team determined the participants' body mass index (BMI) using their weight and height information. The participants were categorized as either obese, overweight or normal weight.

During the follow-up period, the research team regularly gathered data for heart disease diagnosis. They also monitored how long the participants lived with or without the heart conditions.

In total, 19 percent (1,035 cases) of the participants suffered from heart disease. Within the follow-up period, 29 percent (1,902 deaths) of the participants died, wherein more than one-third of the cases were linked to heart disease.

The findings showed that obese senior adults were 50 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease compared with same-aged individuals with normal weight.

However, in terms of life spans, the obese or overweight people without a heart disease diagnosis had the same mortality risk as the participants with normal weight.

"Obesity is associated with higher mortality among younger and middle-aged individuals. However, among older adults, this association is not present," said health care policy professor Dr. David Grabowski from the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Grabowski was not part of the recent study. 

"Obesity had no effect on total life expectancy in older individuals, but increased the risk of having [cardiovascular disease] earlier in life and consequently extended the number of years lived with CVD," the researchers wrote.

Dhana added that heart disease patients often need to take various medications, which could, on their own, carry negative side effects.

Dhana stressed that lowering the obesity rates among senior adults is "fundamental." The researchers support the need for an action plan that could include adequate physical exercise and healthy diets.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Obesity on June 14.

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