Research Article| Volume 26, ISSUE 11, P1039-1047, November 2016

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The association of lean and fat mass with all-cause mortality in older adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study


      • Greater lean tissue had a protective association with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.
      • The lowest quartile of fat was associated with greater all-cause mortality.
      • The upper quartile of fat was not associated with outcomes.
      • Prevention efforts in older adults may be best targeted toward improvements in lean mass.


      Background and aims

      Understanding contributions of lean and fat tissue to cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular mortality may help clarify areas of prevention in older adults. We aimed to define distributions of lean and fat tissue in older adults and their contributions to cause-specific mortality.

      Methods and results

      A total of 1335 participants of the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) who underwent dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans were included. We used principal components analysis (PCA) to define two independent sources of variation in DEXA-derived body composition, corresponding to principal components composed of lean (“lean PC”) and fat (“fat PC”) tissue. We used Cox proportional hazards regression using these PCs to investigate the relationship between body composition with cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular mortality. Mean age was 76.2 ± 4.8 years (56% women) with mean body mass index 27.1 ± 4.4 kg/m2. A greater lean PC was associated with lower all-cause (HR = 0.91, 95% CI 0.84–0.98, P = 0.01) and cardiovascular mortality (HR = 0.84, 95% CI 0.74–0.95, P = 0.005). The lowest quartile of the fat PC (least adiposity) was associated with a greater hazard of all-cause mortality (HR = 1.24, 95% CI 1.04–1.48, P = 0.02) relative to fat PCs between the 25th–75th percentile, but the highest quartile did not have a significantly greater hazard (P = 0.70).


      Greater lean tissue mass is associated with improved cardiovascular and overall mortality in the elderly. The lowest levels of fat tissue mass are linked with adverse prognosis, but the highest levels show no significant mortality protection. Prevention efforts in the elderly frail may be best targeted toward improvements in lean muscle mass.


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