Two out of every five adults over 50 in Ireland could be classified as having metabolic syndrome according to research from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity.
Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for having at least three of the following conditions: obesity, high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, low levels of protective forms of cholesterol and high levels of harmful forms of cholesterol.
It increases the risk of mortality by 60 per cent and is a known risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The study found that factors associated with an increased likelihood of metabolic syndrome included increasing age, being male, less years spent in formal education and lower levels of physical activity, with those who had low levels of physical activity being 71 per cent more likely to have metabolic syndrome.
It also found that three quarters of adults over 50 were overweight or obese, with more than one in three being obese.
In a press statement, first author of the study, Dr Kevin McCarthy, said: “This study highlights how common metabolic syndrome is among older adults in Ireland.”
“Apart from the very high levels of obesity, what struck me was the strong associations metabolic syndrome had with many of the modifiable risk factors for dementia – obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugars, which are all part of the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome, but also lower levels of formal education attained, higher levels of physical inactivity, higher levels of smoking, and levels of antidepressant use that were nearly twice as high as those without metabolic syndrome”, he said.
Senior author of the study, Professor Rose Anne Kenny, added: “This is the first large population-representative study to report the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in older adults in Ireland and highlights what is potentially a very large public health problem given the known strong associations metabolic syndrome has with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and overall death rates.”
She also said that even after the study’s participants did not change their lifestyle despite being informed of their BMIs.
“Those who took part in the TILDA health assessment at wave one were informed of their BMI and what that related to, in terms of being overweight, obese etc, but despite this, lifestyle behaviours did not change dramatically and the numbers meeting the criteria for metabolic syndrome increased by 20 per cent among participants four years later. We need novel ways to communicate these important health messages so that they are meaningful to people”, she said.