Today, people live longer and the elderly are able to perform activities that were inconceivable to previous generations. According to the European Commission, the average life expectancy has risen globally, reaching just over 80 years in the European Union in 2013an increase of a decade when compared to half a century earlier. While this is a great achievement, the extended lifespan brings new challenges, not least a higher risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as type 2 diabetes, dementia and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Calorie-dense but nutrient-poor diets are particularly concerning and common among the elderly. This is due to several reasons, from socio-economic factors including low income, inability to access nutritious food, social isolation and a lack of basic nutrition education, to other challenges that many elderly people face, such as limited mobility and poor oral health. Older people’s metabolism also works differently; for example, the body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D3 from sun exposure decreases.
Some people develop chronic illnesses early in life, while others remain healthy throughout life. This is due to multiple factors, particularly genetics and lifestyle. The relationship between nutrition, nutrient intake and status, and health outcomes is an important piece of the puzzle that can be influenced by individuals.
The NU-AGE research project (nu-age.eu) investigated the effect of diet on aging. Its goal was to improve health and quality of life in the EU aging population by counteracting inflammagingthe effect of inflammation on the aging processthrough a whole diet approach.
Part of the objective was to provide information on how the whole diet, and thus the integration of different nutrients, could impact and counteract age-related decline.
The rationale of the project was based on evidence that single nutrients can impact inflammatory parameters, and it went beyond that by introducing the concept of the whole diet. Compared to the single nutrients approach, the whole diet approach allows for targeting not only a higher number of vulnerable processes involved in inflammation and aging, but also studying the synergy of multiple subtle effects.
The results of the dietary intervention have been used to develop elderly-tailored prototypes of functional foods and to improve traditional foods.
A word of caution: brands must know their audience when attempting to reach the elderly market. European seniors were found to be uncomfortable with products expressly mentioning age. They also have a preference for sustainable, naturally nutritious products. In contrast, age segmentation and targeting can be very successful in Asia. Regardless, healthy agers across the board want support from and partnership with a brandnot just solutions.
For more information, download the Vitafoods Insights special report “Healthy Aging: Science Enhances Options for Seniors."