Diet quality among the elderly in Europe is often poor, but in general a lack of resources is not to blame, according to a new study. So is age a barrier to learning new dietary tricks?
Life expectancy in Europe is rising, but whether people are living better while living longer is still an open question. Nutrition is one factor known to have an impact on healthy ageing, and evidence has mounted to suggest that healthy eating could slow the onset of age-related chronic diseases.
In a new study published in Public Health Nutrition, researchers examined the dietary quality of thousands of over-50s living in the UK, Italy, Sweden and Finland and compared it with socioeconomic factors. They found that those with the most education, women, and those who did not live alone were most likely to eat well.
“In addition to robust scientiﬁc assessment of the nutrition–ageing relationship, effective nutritional policy for healthy ageing requires a clear understanding of what is driving the elderly to adopt particular diets and what can be done at population or individual level to increase the healthiness of those diets,” they wrote.
Few individuals achieved the maximum score of 80 in the researchers’ index – and the mean score was highest in the UK (60), and lowest in Finland (36), while it was 50 in Sweden.
Wealth vs. health
The researchers also found that resource availability was not significantly associated with poor diet, a factor they said “stands in sharp contrast with the predominant view in the public health literature that many individuals have few options but to make unhealthy food choices because of limited resources.”
Although this finding was unexpected, the authors said it was rather encouraging that there may be specific public health policies that could help tackle poor dietary quality among the elderly, rather than general economic ones.
They concluded that providing better dietary information may help promote healthy eating for healthy ageing.
“On the other hand, food habits appeared largely set in the latter part of life, with age and retirement having little inﬂuence on the healthiness of dietary choices.”
Source: Public Health Nutrition
“Sociodemographic determinants of diet quality of the EU elderly: a comparative analysis in four countries”
Authors: Xavier Irz, Laura Fratiglioni, Nataliya Kuosmanen, Mario Mazzocchi, Lucia Modugno, Giuseppe Nocella, Behnaz Shakersain, W Bruce Traill, Weili Xu and Giacomo Zanello