Emory Report
January 22, 2008
Volume 60, Number 16

Emory Report homepage  

January 22, 2008
Study debunks myths of slow recovery for obese patients

By ashante dobbs

Obese patients undergoing rehabilitation at an acute rehabilitation hospital recovered faster than patients of normal weight, according to a study by an Emory researcher.

The findings, reported in the January 2008 American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, debunk previous assumptions that the obese or overweight have a slower recovery than do those who are normal weight.

“The study’s findings are the opposite of what you might expect,” says David T. Burke, lead study author and chair of Emory’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. “After several analyses of the data, we continued to get the same results — even across various diagnostic categories. We can’t deny that this is a real phenomenon.”

The study assessed the association of body mass index with the functional independence measure scores of 1,077 inpatients admitted to the medicine service of an acute rehabilitation hospital.

The study also examined whether the association between patients’ BMI and FIM was different across motor and cognitive skill categories.

The results showed that from the time of admission to the rehabilitation hospital to the time of discharge, median gains and the speed of the gains in FIM scores were highest among the most obese group.
All obese patients progressed faster than did those who were in the normal weight and underweight categories.

“While this study shows us that obese patients can tolerate exercise and physical activity, and in fact recover more quickly than normal weight patients, it didn’t answer the question of why this is the case,” Burke says. “We are currently engaged in studies that will help us understand these results.”