Along with these improvements, the study also identifies education as a key approach to achieving an adequate protein intake.
Here improving the understanding of and minimising perceptions of spoilage and wastage were proposed as well as improving cost-efficiency and the freshness and healthiness of protein-rich foods.
The findings of the study go some way to contradicting studies that identified a reduced appetite, changes in sensory abilities, and deteriorations in manual dexterity and gastro-intestinal function as reasons for a reduced protein intake.
Inadequate protein intake
Ageing is considered a reliable predictor of protein intake and has been attributed as an indirect factor in the increase in falls and fractures in this population.
A decrease in immune function, increased risk of infection, decreased independence and increased morbidity and mortality have also been noted.
According to the study, many older adults across Europe are not meeting the lowest levels of suggested intakes.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 10–30% of community-dwelling older adults consume less protein than recommended, whereas 10–35% of older adults in the Netherlands consume less than the recommended levels of protein.
In Nordic countries, 78%–88% of studied participants were estimated to consume less than the recommended intakes of protein.
The team from Bournemouth University began their investigations by sending out questionnaires that evaluated the individual’s consumption of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products; reasons for the consumption/non-consumption of these foods; as well as demographic and lifestyle characteristics.
These questionnaires were sent to 1000 adults aged 65 years and over. In total, 351 (35.1%) questionnaires were returned.
“We found that people were most likely to eat different types of animal protein if they were tasty, affordable and convenient to buy and prepare,” explained Katherine Appleton, lead researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Bournemouth.
"We found that people were also likely to select food that they perceived to be healthy. These reasons all have implications for the kinds of interventions that are likely to be successful in persuading older people to eat more protein."
Health vitally important
The findings have implications for intervention strategies concerning this age group. For example cost and ease of preparation as a factor may mean more emphasis on the promotion of pre-prepared or pre-cooked foods that may make a difference to protein consumption.
Additionally, more effort in educating older adults on where to find cheaper sources of protein may be beneficial.
The health aspect of protein has previously been identified as important for fish, egg and dairy consumption, as well as for meat consumption.
Additionally medical factors have been found to be important for dairy consumption as well as meat and egg consumption.
“Eating enough protein is important for our health as we age, but many older people don't consume enough. Options such as taking protein supplements or having fortified foods are often unpopular,” added Appleton.
“People took into account the healthiness of foods when picking what to buy and eat, so better information and education may also change people's decisions."
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.3390/nu8040187
“Barriers to and Facilitators of the Consumption of Animal-Based Protein-Rich Foods in Older Adults.”
Authors: K. M. Appleton