Understanding factors associated with sarcopenic obesity in older African women from a low-income setting: a cross-sectional analysis

Abstract Background High rates of food insecurity, obesity and obesity-related comorbidities in ageing South African (SA) women may amplify the risk of developing sarcopenic obesity. This study aimed to investigate the prevalence and correlates of sarcopenic obesity and its diagnostic components [grip strength, appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASM) and body mass index (BMI)] in older SA women from a low-income setting. Methods This cross-sectional study recruited black SA women between the ages of 60–85 years (n = 122) from a low-income community. Testing included a fasting blood sample (markers of cardiometabolic risk, HIV), whole body and regional muscle and fat mass (dual-energy absorptiometry x-ray), anthropometry, blood pressure, functional movement tests, current medication use, demographic and health questionnaires, physical activity (PA; accelerometery), household food insecurity access scale, and a one-week quantified food frequency questionnaire. Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) criteria (grip strength and ASM, adjusted for BMI) were used to classify sarcopenia. Participants with sarcopenia alongside a BMI of > 30.0 kg/m2 were classified as having sarcopenic obesity. Prevalence using other criteria (European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People, Asian Working Group for Sarcopenia and the International Working Group for Sarcopenia) were also explored. Results The prevalence of sarcopenia was 27.9%, which comprised of sarcopenia without obesity (3.3%) and sarcopenic obesity (24.6%). Other classification criteria showed that sarcopenia ranged from 0.8–14.7%, including 0.8–9.8% without obesity and 0–4.9% with sarcopenic obesity. Using multivariate-discriminant analysis (OPLS-DA) those with sarcopenic obesity presented with a descriptive profile of higher C-reactive protein, waist circumference, food security and sedentary time than women without sarcopenic obesity (p = 0.046). A similar profile described women with low BMI-adjusted grip strength (p < 0.001). Conclusions The majority of women with sarcopenia were also obese (88%). We show a large discrepancy in the diagnostic criteria and the potential for significantly underestimating the prevalence of sarcopenia if BMI is not adjusted for. The main variables common to women with sarcopenic obesity were higher food security, lower PA and chronic inflammation. Our data highlights the importance of addressing obesity within these low-income communities to ensure the prevention of sarcopenic obesity and that quality of life is maintained with ageing.