The nutrition needs of older
adults merit attention.
The degenerative biological changes
associated with old age can sometimes be retarded
through appropriate lifestyle, including adequate nutrition, to
support successful aging.
Tasty, "nutrition value
added" products are attractive to older adults as key
components of a healthy lifestyle. Their appeal will escalate in
this growing, increasingly educated and health-conscious
population. Adequate nutrition is also contingent upon the
availability and accessibility of foods that meet seniors'
A growing body of evidence points
to a need to re-evaluate the current nutrition recommendations for
Our knowledge about the nutrient
intake of seniors is far from complete. The most common finding is
a marked decrease in energy intake with age. Because they eat
less, elders can have difficulty getting the recommended amounts
of vitamins and minerals.
For instance, in a recent survey,
the energy intake of 70% of women aged 65 to 74 years was below
1500 kcal/day and 25% were consuming less than half the
recommended intake for calcium. This could further precipitate the
loss of bone mass that occurs with aging.
The disease factor
The prevalence of disease
increases as age advances. Poor nutrition worsens the impact of
chronic disease, reduces resistance to infections, slows healing
and increases use of the health care system.
Using assessments based on risk
factors associated with malnutrition, 40% to 50% of
community-dwelling seniors seem to have a moderate to high risk of
becoming malnourished, especially among those who live alone. The
limited data on frailer seniors suggest that the picture is much
Identifying seniors at risk for
malnutrition is key to the empowerment of seniors and their
caregivers to strive to maintain an optimal quality of life and to
sustain successful aging.
As we age, our bodies become less
efficient at processing the foods that we eat. Food
takes longer to digest and there is generally less absorption of
nutrients in the digestion process. Compounded by a reduced
appetite, malnutrition becomes an issue.
Seniors have special food
Special food needs arise as seniors
grow older, especially for those with medical conditions and
compromised mobility. For smaller appetites, foods are needed that
provide high levels of protein, vitamins, minerals (and sometimes
calories) in smaller volumes.
The nutrient density can be
increased by ingredient selection, fortification or through the
use of nutritional supplements.
Taste is an important
consideration in food for the elderly adult; flavors need to be 2
to 12 times higher than for younger adults. Seniors' lack of
appetite may be due in part to the decline in taste and smell
Swallowing difficulties are
common in older adults. Many need products that are easily chewed
and swallowed but that also have an appetizing look, taste and
With more community-based health
services there will be a growing demand at retail for these
specialized foods, which so far have been geared to the
An individual's ability to shop,
prepare and eat meals is fundamental to independent living.
Services which facilitate shopping or provide meals and homemaking
assistance will also be in greater demand to meet the food needs
of the less autonomous senior in the community. Key stakeholders
include family and professional caregivers.
Few reports exist on seniors'
food and service needs and preferences
Most seniors enjoy relatively good
health and are interested in conserving this well-being to
maintain a high quality of life. The high nutrition awareness
among seniors is likely to increase as the wellness-conscious baby
boomers join their ranks.
The senior consumer is attracted
- 75% consider nutrition to be
extremely or very important in choosing their food;
- they are more likely to report
dietary changes to support healthy eating;
- they are more concerned about
fat, salt and sugar, and indicate a higher interest in fiber;
- about half read food packages
as a source of nutrition information.
Those 65 and older generally spend
less on food than the rest of the population, due primarily to
their lower food needs and less frequent eating out.
- high quality in food products,
freshness and good taste;
- foods with "nutrition
value added"; these should include lower fat and sodium,
higher fiber and calcium, moderate calorie content, and
eventually nutraceuticals or functional foods;
- convenience: products that are
easy to prepare, take-home foods, delivered meals;
- packaging that is easy to
read, lift and open, available in single or double serving
sizes, and economical, both to buy and to store;
- product labels that are easy
to understand and carry useful nutrition information, and
additional nutrition information at retail; and
- better store access: less
walking, less stretching and stooping to reach the shelves,
benches for rest, and delivery services.
Meal services represent an
important convenience to all seniors. To expand their reach,
effective marketing will be needed to counter the perception that
they are only for the "old and sick".