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Aging Adults Want Foods to Support Health Now, Treat Conditions Later

LAS VEGAS—The rising population of the more than 78 million baby boomers is driving demand for food products that support good health now, as well as medicinal treatment for conditions that arise in later years, according to a panel discussion at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) 2012 Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

Lu Ann Williams, head of research for Innova Market Insights, noted most older consumers have at least one chronic condition, with the most prevalent being arthritis (50%), followed by hypertension (34%), heart disease (32%), cancer (23%) and diabetes (19%). Many of these same consumers report that concerns about losing health insurance is pushing them to control their current condition–or prevent future conditions–through fortified foods or dietary supplements.

“Product launches with health claims are on the rise," Williams said. “It’s the hottest story in town."

She predicted the next wave of products will be geared toward consumers worried about losing muscle mass as they age. Humans lose up to 37% of muscle tissue as they age, and their body fat increases by 114%, she said, making foods with high-protein content of great interest to consumers. She also noted the majority of consumers are concerned about maintaining mental alertness as they age, fueling interest in products and supplements containing omega-3s and B vitamins.

Anthony T. Pavel, a partner in the food and drug law practice of K&L Gates, said the proliferation of wellness products means both consumers and food manufacturers should be aware of strict rules established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for promoting the health benefits of foods. They are particularly strict for foods marketed as medical foods, such as beverages meant to provide supplemental nutrition for undernourished senior citizens or other populations.

“Medical foods are the toughest regulatory category. It is hard to build justification for them, and it must be done methodically and with good data," he said. “FDA considers this a very narrow category."

The key difference between marketing for wellness and marketing for medicine is wellness foods’ primary purpose must be as a food, not as a medical treatment, Pavel said. Any claims regarding health benefits must focus on maintaining the healthy structure/function of the body, not treating it for a disease. For example, a product could say it “promotes health vision" but not “restores healthy vision."

Despite the regulations, Pavel said food manufacturers should not be discouraged from creating new products that have wellness benefits or even the stricter medicinal benefits, given the expected high demand for them now and in the future.

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