The Effects of Obesity and Age on Balance Recovery After Slipping

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Virginia Tech

Falls due to slipping are a serious occupational concern. Slipping is estimated to cause 40-50% of all fall-related injuries. In 2011, falls resulted in 22% of injuries requiring days away from work. Epidemiological data indicates that older and obese adults experience more falls than young, non-obese individuals. An increasingly heavier and older workforce may be exacerbating the problem of slip-induced falls in the workplace. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of obesity and age on slip severity and fall outcome following an unexpected slip. Four groups of participants (young obese, young non-obese, older obese, older non-obese) were exposed to an unexpected slip perturbation. Slip severity (slip distance, slip duration, average slip velocity and peak slip velocity) and slip outcome (fall or recovery) were compared between groups. Obese individuals experienced 8.25% faster slips than non-obese individuals in terms of average slip velocity (p=0.022). Obesity did not affect slip distance, slip duration or peak slip velocity. Obese individuals also experienced more falls; 33.3% of obese individuals fell compared to 8.6% of non-obese (p=0.005). Obese individuals were 8.24 times more likely to experience a fall than non-obese individuals, when adjusting for age, gender and gait speed. No age effects were found for slip severity or slip outcome. This study revealed that obese participants experienced faster slips and more falls than their non-obese counterparts. These results, along with epidemiological data reporting higher fall rates among the obese, indicate that obesity may be a significant risk factor for experiencing slip-induced fall.

biomechanics, slips and falls, Aging, Obesity