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Are BMI and inflammatory markers independently associated with physical fatigability in old age?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel CooperORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2018, Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. Background: Obesity and chronic low-grade inflammation have both been implicated in the onset of physical fatigue. However, few studies have investigated the independence of these associations in older community-dwelling populations. We therefore aimed to investigate the associations of body mass index (BMI) and inflammatory markers at age 60–64 with perceived physical fatigability at age 68 and to assess whether any such associations were independent of each other and potential confounding factors. A secondary aim was to investigate whether any association with BMI extended back into earlier adulthood. Methods: Participants of the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (N = 1580) had BMI and levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) measured during clinical assessments at age 60–64. These were related to self-perceived physical fatigability assessed at age 68 using the Pittsburgh Fatigability Scale (PFS) (total score:0 (no physical fatigue)–50 (extreme physical fatigue)). Resuts: Women had higher mean PFS scores than men (mean (SD): 16.0 (9.1) vs 13.2 (8.9), p < 0.01). In sex-adjusted models, BMI, CRP and IL-6 were each associated with PFS scores. When all three factors were included in the same model, BMI and IL-6 remained associated with PFS scores whereas CRP did not. After adjustment for a range of potential confounders, associations of BMI and IL-6 with PFS scores were still evident; fully adjusted differences in mean PFS score = 3.41 (95% CI: 0.59, 6.24) and 1.65 (0.46, 2.84) for underweight and obese participants when compared with normal weight and, 2.78 (1.65, 3.91) when comparing those with an IL-6 of 2.51–8.49 pg/mL with levels <1.50. Conclusions: BMI and inflammation may both be suitable targets for intervention to reduce the burden of physical fatigability in later life. Further, interventions that target both obesity and elevated levels of IL-6 are likely to be more effective than those focusing on only one.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cooper R, Popham M, Santanasto AJ, Hardy R, Glynn NW, Kuh D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Obesity

Year: 2019

Volume: 43

Issue: 4

Pages: 832-841

Print publication date: 01/04/2019

Online publication date: 24/05/2018

Acceptance date: 05/03/2018

Date deposited: 17/01/2022

ISSN (print): 0307-0565

ISSN (electronic): 1476-5497

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/s41366-018-0087-0

PubMed id: 29795469


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