Obesity is a significant public health issue with increasing prevalence among middle-aged and older adults. The present study tested whether subjective age, that is how old or young individuals perceive themselves to be, is related to both BMI and waist circumference in five samples of middle-aged and older adults (total N > 24,000; aged 34 to 105 years). Cross-sectional analyses that accounted for demographic variables revealed that an older subjective age was related to higher BMI and waist circumference in the five samples. Feeling older was related to a 10–20% higher likelihood of BMI ≥ 30 and a 11–25% higher likelihood of exceeding the obesity-related threshold for waist circumference. For most associations, age felt was more consistently and strongly related to adiposity than chronological age. The overall pattern was confirmed by a meta-analysis of the five samples. The present research adds subjective age to the list of factors related to obesity across adulthood.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$259.00 per year
only $21.58 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Bell JA, Sabia S, Singh-Manoux A, Hamer M, Kivimäki M. Healthy obesity and risk of accelerated functional decline and disability. Int J Obes. 2017;41:866–72.
Singh-Manoux A, Czernichow S, Elbaz A, Dugravot A, Sabia S, Hagger-Johnson G, et al. Obesity phenotypes in midlife and cognition in early old age: the Whitehall II cohort study. Neurology. 2012;79:755–62.
Stenholm S, Head J, Aalto V, Kivimäki M, Kawachi I, Zins M, et al. Body mass index as a predictor of healthy and disease-free life expectancy between ages 50 and 75: a multicohort study. Int J Obes. 2017;41:769–75.
Jacobs EJ, Newton CC, Wang Y, Patel AV, McCullough ML, Campbell PT, et al. Waist circumference and all-cause mortality in a large US cohort. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170:1293–301.
Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Curtin LR. Prevalence and trends in obesity among US adults, 1999-2008. JAMA. 2010;303:235–41.
Demakakos P, Gjonca E, Nazroo J. Age identity, age perceptions, and health: evidence from the English longitudinal study of ageing. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2007;1114:279–87.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Luchetti M, Terracciano A. Feeling older and the development of cognitive impairment and dementia. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017;72:966–73.
Rippon I, Steptoe A. Feeling old vs being old: associations between self-perceived age and mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175:307–9.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A. Younger subjective age is associated with lower C-reactive protein among older adults. Brain Behav Immun. 2015;43:33–36.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A. Subjective age and cystatin C among older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. in press.
Wienert J, Kuhlmann T, Fink S, Hambrecht R, Lippke S. Testing principle working mechanisms of the health action process approach for subjective physical age groups. Res Sports Med. 2016;24:67–83.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A. How old do you feel? The role of age discrimination and biological aging in subjective age. PLoS ONE. 2015;10:e0119293.
Stephan Y, Caudroit J, Jaconelli A, Terracciano A. Subjective age and cognitive functioning: a 10-year prospective study. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014;22:1180–7.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A. Subjective age and personality development: a 10-year study. J Pers. 2015;83:142–54.
Shrira A, Palgi Y, Ben-Ezra M, Hoffman Y, Bodner E. A youthful age identity mitigates the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms on successful aging. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016;24:174–5.
Jokela M, Hintsanen M, Hakulinen C, Batty GD, Nabi H, Singh‐Manoux A, et al. Association of personality with the development and persistence of obesity: a meta‐analysis based on individual–participant data. Obes Rev. 2013;14:315–23.
Epel E, Lapidus R, McEwen B, Brownell K. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001;26:37–49.
The Wisconsing Longitudinal Study (WLS) has been supported principally by the National Institute on Aging (AG-9775, AG-21079, AG-033285, and AG-041868), with additional support from the Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WLS was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WLS data are available at: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/wlsresearch/. The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIAU01AG009740) and conducted by the University of Michigan. HRS was approved by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board. HRS data are available at: http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu/index.php. The Midlife in the United States study 2 (MIDUS 2) was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (P01AG020166). Additional grants were obtained from grants from the General Clinical Research Centers Program (M01-RR023942, M01-RR00865) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR000427). MIDUS was approved by the Education and Social/Behavioral Sciences and the Health Sciences Institutional Review Boards at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. MIDUS data are available at: http://midus.wisc.edu/index.php.The NHATS is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (grant number NIA U01AG032947) through a cooperative agreement with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. NHATS was approved by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board. NHATS data are available at: http://www.nhats.org/. Participants provided informed consent in the five samples
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Electronic supplementary material
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Stephan, Y., Sutin, A.R. & Terracciano, A. Subjective age and adiposity: evidence from five samples. Int J Obes 43, 938–941 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-018-0179-x