By the year 2050, the global population of adults aged 60 and over is projected to more than double from roughly 841 million to 2 billion, becoming 21% of the world’s population.
Moreover, the elderly population is living longer: the number of individuals aged 80 and over is expected to triple in just over thirty years.
Age is a major risk factor for a variety of non-communicable chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancer.
All of these diseases have high associated costs of diagnosis, treatment, and care.
Therefore, the aging of the population not only raises serious public health concerns, but also concerns about the financial burden placed on individuals and national health care systems.
Published in the Advances in Nutrition, research explores the role nutrition can play in promoting healthy aging and in improving prognoses in age-related diseases.
The authors of this scientific review also examined today’s health care systems, looking for ways that they could better meet the nutrition needs of aging populations around the world.
The authors point to a growing body of evidence that the increasing prevalence of many chronic diseases is not a normal function of aging, but rather a consequence of unhealthy behaviors.
The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that the elimination of the major risk factors for chronic disease, including smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet, would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type2 diabetesby80%.
While the link between healthy eating and healthy aging is clear, older adults face challenges in getting adequate nutrition.
For example, many experience changes in taste and smell, loss of appetite, dental and chewing problems, as well as limitations in access to high-quality fresh food.
This is of particular concern because older adults require higher levels of some essential nutrients, despite lower overall energy needs, due to inefficiencies in nutrient absorption and utilization.
In particular, several studies have identified key nutrients that most older adults do not get enough of in their diets, including protein, omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, carotenoids, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B-6 , B-12 , D, and E.
In contrast to an increased requirement for many nutrients, older adults need less of certain other nutrients such as iron. Children and young adults often don’t get enough iron.
Iron, however, accumulates in the body with age, and a high intake of iron among older adults has been associated with a greater risk of heart disease.
Although researchers are learning more and more about the general nutritional needs of older adults, individual needs vary.
As a result, the authors believe “an integrated health system infrastructure is crucial to ensure quality nutrition care for the aging population.”
Specifically, the authors call for the incorporation of a “nutrition physical” or screening into the yearly physical examination of older adults, which can set the stage for developing nutrition interventions for healthy aging.