ICN proceedings

New dietary strategies needed for Europe’s ageing population

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

 Eurostat: The percentage of people in Europe aged 65 and older is expected to increase from 17% to 30% by 2050
Eurostat: The percentage of people in Europe aged 65 and older is expected to increase from 17% to 30% by 2050

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European dietary strategy should be adapted to its ageing population, the EU-backed NU-AGE project told the International Congress of Nutrition (ICN) in Granada, Spain, this week.

The European Commission’s agency, Eurostat, estimates that the percentage of people in Europe aged 65 and older will increase from 17% to 30% by 2050.

In response to this burgeoning concern the NU-AGE project, with funding from the European Union, has been conducting studies with the aim of creating functional foods for healthier diets for an ageing population.

This week’s event has been a symposium of that research. Aurelia Santoro, NU-AGE scientific manager and researcher based at the University of Bologna said: “The selected talks at ICN [have described] the first steps of the project, illustrating the details of the NU-AGE diet and relationships, from the socio-economic status of elderly individuals to their dietary choices and health statuses. Moreover, metabolomic and metagenomic scientific data will be used to discover which diets and foods are of most benefit to elderly European populations.”

Discussing the potential impacts of the studies included in the event, one of the speakers Lisette de Groot, professor in nutrition and ageing at Wageningen University, told NutraIngredients: “It will contribute to policy changes, depending on the outcome of course.”

Nutritional metabonomics and microbial genomics

Nestlé senior scientist, Sebastiano Collino, said ageing biomarkers in nutritional metabonomics. He argued that a better understanding of the ageing process was needed in order to help delay or even prevent disease.

Metabonomics can be used to identify biological pathways affected by drugs, and could lead to personalised therapies. This would entail individuals being grouped by metabonomic phentotypes, arranged by factors such as physiological response to the environment, diet, lifestyle and genetics. 

Meanwhile, Paul O'Toole, professor in microbial genomics at University College Cork discussed elderly people’s gut microbiome – the bacterial ecosystem in the intestines – and its dependency on diet, and connection to health, ageing and well-being. His study on the topic is the largest yet. 

NU-AGE coordinator Professor Claudio Franceschi who chaired the conference said that these two areas in particular were hot research topics. “The topics that are within the project are becoming even more hot and important,”​ he told Nutraingredients.

Social factors

The talks also looked at the influence of socio-economic factors on diet, and this effect on the aging process.

Xavier Irz, professor of economic analysis of food markets at MTT Economic Research in Finland, claims that we do not know enough about how food choices, health and diet quality affect dietary change and healthy ageing. Current research into older people in four EU countries shows that on average diet quality is low. 

Professor Lisette de Groot, presented her on-going study on dietary intervention in European elderly people. The one year trial involving 1,250 volunteers in five EU countries is the first to look at the effects of a whole diet on health and quality of life in people aged 65- 80.

The study, which will be completed by late 2014, will see some participants receiving dietary advice towards a Mediterranean diet including vitamin D supplementation while a control group receives no advice.  

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