Improving Dietary Resilience to Support Aging

Administration on Aging estimated that in 2014 about one in every seven Americans was 65 years or older (46.2 million), representing 14.5% of the U.S. population. This group is expected to grow to 21.7% of the population by 2040 and by 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014. This changing population demographic, referred to as the “silver tsunami,” will have a major impact on health care and society, if their health and nutrition needs are not appropriately addressed. Promoting better integration of nutrition into the daily lifestyles and health care of individuals can help support healthy aging and may help reduce the financial and societal burden.

A recent review by the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science Working Group on Nutrition for Aging Population published in Advances in Nutrition, suggests that large proportion of the population will be vulnerable to “nutrition frailty,” which is characterized by significant weight-loss, loss of muscle mass and strength, other essential loss of physiologic reserves making individuals more susceptible to disability and poor quality of life. This not only compromises individuals ability to meet their nutritional requirements but also increases their vulnerability to nutrient deficiencies and associated vulnerabilities. While obesity and associated cardiometabolic disorders continue to be a growing concern, this age group is also increasingly susceptible to nutritional frailty, and as a result, age-related diseases, including sarcopenia, cognitive decline, and infectious disease.

Studies have identified several nutrients that may be inadequately consumed in relation to health risk among older adults, including protein, n–3 FAs, dietary fiber, carotenoids (vitamin A precursors), calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B-6, B-12, D, and E. The review highlights the role of nutrition science in promoting healthy aging and in improving the prognosis in cases of age-related diseases. The review also calls for more randomized clinical trials that include older adults with disease to help identify their specific nutrient needs, biomarkers to understand the impact of advancing age on protein requirements, skeletal muscle turnover and a re-evaluation of how BMI guidelines are used. Regular nutrition assessment and targeted solutions will be critical to support the health and nutrition needs of this growing population group.