French nutrition guide to tackle chronic diseases in young, elderly and mothers

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) looks to prevent chronic disease by publishing updated nutritional guidance for children, elderly and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

The advice builds on benchmarks set out in 2017 and discusses the nutritional needs of these populations, also emphasising physical activity benefits for the old that characterises healthy ageing.

“In view of the decrease in energy requirements with age, maintaining the quantities usually consumed to cover nutritional needs is possible by slightly increasing physical activity,”​ said the Agency.

“It also contributes to the protection against a large number of noncommunicable diseases and, more specifically, against the physiopathological effects of ageing such as sarcopenia, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.

At one end of the age spectrum, ANSES recommends that for children aged four and above, an excessive intake of sugars should be avoided.

The Agency also calls on the public authorities to urgently implement measures to reduce the risks incurred.

“ANSES places particular emphasis on two priority levers: sweet drinks and pastries-biscuits-cakes, frequently offered at tea time. Indeed, these foods are rich in sugars and have a low nutritional value.

“They should be substituted with other, more valuable foods such as sugar-free dairy products or other calcium-rich foods as well as fresh (i.e. unprocessed) fruits and nuts.”

Mother and child benefits

An emphasis on vitamins and minerals is made for pregnant and lactating women as ANSES highlights foods with benefits for the mother and child during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Dairy products, fruits and vegetables and fish, are identified as a source of essential nutrients for these populations such as iron, iodine, vitamin B9 and folic acid. For breastfeeding women only, vitamins A and C would be covered by these foods.

ANSES also recommends women of childbearing age maintain their dietary balance without waiting to become pregnant in order to ensure a satisfactory nutritional status at conception.

In discussing the nutritional needs of the elderly, ANSES recommends to reduce portions for certain foods except fruits, vegetables, fish, molluscs, crustaceans and starchy foods to cover nutritional requirements.

ANSES recommends this action should it not be possible to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary times for some of these people.

Like most European countries, France is in the midst of tackling a growing elderly population with nearly a fifth of French people​ are aged over 65 according to official figures – second only to Germany.

The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies state that around 19.6% are now aged over 65, compared to 15.5% two decades ago – an issue that is putting a strain on the economy, which is propped up by fewer people of working age.

Infant food advice

The Agency also discusses how best to diversify infant food. In its opinion on children aged 0 to 3 years, ANSES specifies a beginning of diversification between 4 months and not after 6 months.

The supply of a maximum of varied foods between 5 and 18 months, they said with a favourable window of acceptance of new foods opened via the repeated presentation of a food originally refused and the importance of specific meal times.

“In addition, many products targeting young children can contribute to their excessive amounts of total sugars,”​ the Agency said.

“Thus, ANSES stresses the importance of establishing sugar content criteria for these products to be suitable for young children.”

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