The importance of nutrition to add healthy life years
The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission's in-house science service, has published a science and policy report highlighting the importance of diet and nutrition in increasing healthy life years, and promoting Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA). The report describes the main factors of AHA, focusses on under-nutrition in the elderly as both a cause and consequence of functional decline, and highlights the main research gaps.
The number of people 80 years and over will triple during the same period. Supporting AHA is critical to improving the quality of life in the elderly, ensuring that individuals continue to contribute to society later in life. In this context, ‘healthy’ refers to physical, mental and social well-being and ‘active’ is the continuation of participation in civic, cultural, economic, physically active, social and spiritual affairs.
Determinants of active and healthy ageing
By critically examining the contribution of diet and nutrition in AHA, and its importance in the ageing process, several determinants of AHA were identified. The determinants of AHA consist of economic, social and behavioural factors.
The role of the diet
The report further addresses micronutrient supplementation as a strategy to overcome undernutrition, pointing out that evidence to date has not yet conclusively demonstrated a health-promoting effect of micronutrient supplementation in the elderly. Another suggested approach is to maximise intake of essential vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds from natural food sources. In particular the commonly-referred to Mediterranean diet is suggested as a possible approach to support healthy ageing, due to its association with a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease. There is also an increasing body of evidence that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of cognitive decline. Whether this approach of delivering a wholesome diet is feasible for those affected by physiological changes linked to ageing, remains to be determined.