If you weren’t already motivated to get off the couch or out of that chair, your health and wellbeing may depend on it. A recent article in the journal Future Science indicates that a sedentary lifestyle at work and home is a contributing factor to the development of sarcopenic obesity, an age-related syndrome.

Sarcopenic obesity is a condition characterized by an increase in fat mass and a reduction in lean muscle mass. Because more than 20% of the world’s population will be 60 years or older by 20501, we can reasonably expect the prevalence of the condition to increase.

Sarcopenic obesity is brought about by a combination of physical inactivity, aging and poor diet and is accompanied by low-grade inflammation, insulin resistance and changes in hormone production2. The condition has the potential to become a more serious public health concern due to a suboptimal diet, an aging population, sedentary lifestyle and the increasing number of jobs where sitting for long periods is necessary.

At the recent International Society of Nutraceuticals & Functional Foods’ Annual Conference in Orlando, I gave a presentation on the global implications of sarcopenic obesity to doctors, scientists and industry experts from around the world. This is a topic that aligns with our global nutrition philosophy at Herbalife Nutrition, which calls for balanced nutrition and regular exercise to support wellbeing and a healthy, active lifestyle.

Though sarcopenic obesity has no single cause, the root of the problem is that there are too many overfed, undernourished people in the United States consuming energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods.

Sarcopenic obesity is a growing challenge that requires a multifaceted solution. From a policy perspective, we need to develop dietary recommendations that provide adequate nutrients without excess energy alongside easy to implement physical activity guidelines for all ages. An answer is urgently needed as global trends of aging population, sedentary lifestyle and rates of diabetes are increasing.3

If left unchecked, sarcopenic obesity can weaken muscles, limit mobility, increase the likelihood of falling and fracture, reduce quality of life, inhibit independence, and increase the likelihood of metabolic diseases (diabetes, metabolic syndrome) and cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, heart attack, stroke).

The Role of Visceral Fat

Though the body contains different types of fat, the fat around the vital organs, known as visceral fat, is tightly linked to metabolic syndrome and is a common trait of sarcopenic obesity. The danger with visceral fat is that it surrounds the critical organs, such as the heart and liver, and stimulates systemic inflammation. Related to obesity, individuals can have the same body mass index, but vastly different inflammatory states and risk levels due to differences in distribution and degree of visceral fat.

Potential Strategies

To improve body composition and reduce visceral fat, the focus should be on:

The bottom line is that a balanced approach, incorporating a healthy diet, rest, hydration and regular physical activity, has the potential to support a healthy, active life.

1World Population Ageing 2013 report, United Nations
2Stenholm et al., Curr Opin Clin Metab Care. 2009; 11(6): 693-700.
3Miller, et al. J. Nutr. 2009; 139: 1198–1202.

David Heber

David HeberM.D., Ph.D., FACP, FASN – Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

Dr. David Heber is the chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute (HNI), which promotes excellence in nutrition education for the public and scientific community and sponsors scientific symposia. The HNI Editorial Board is made up of key scientific opinion leaders from around the world in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, behavioral medicine and public health. Dr. Heber holds a degree in chemistry, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in physiology from UCLA.* In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, reading and painting. Dr. Heber’s favorite Herbalife products are Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix, Herbalife Personalized Protein Powder and the SKIN product line.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.