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Quality of life in old age: a healthy diet is key

We cannot and will not do without the contribution that senior citizens make to our society and the potential they have. Their life experience and advice are important. We want them to be able to stay healthy and active , participate in social and cultural life and grow old on their own terms for as long as possible. But it is also a fact that 84 percent of 70-80 year-old men and 74 percent of women in this age group are overweight or even obese.

This clearly shows that a greater focus must in future be placed on gearing diet towards life stage and age-group. With the population’s average age continuing to rise, it will become ever more important to also consider and improve senior citizens’ special needs and nutritional expertise. There is also a need to improve the quality of catering in institutions and of meals on wheels.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture takes action to support these aims under the Nutrition Initiative for Senior Citizens, which was launched by Federal Minister Klöckner.

BMEL activities regarding healthy eating in old age

The Nutrition Initiative for Senior Citizens carries out a large number of measures relating to the subject of healthy eating in old age.

  • Setting up networking bodies for senior nutrition in all Bundeslaender: One focus of the work of these networking bodies is to be on bringing about nationwide improvement in:
    • the quality of catering in institutions for senior citizens and of mobile catering services; and
    • the catering situation of senior citizens who still look after themselves at home, live in sheltered housing or are looked after by relations.
  • Holding of round table discussions on the subjects of "diet and dementia" and "diet and diabetes": There has not been sufficient research into the connections between diseases such as dementia or diabetes and nutrition. The BMEL will therefore initiate a round table discussion on “diet and dementia” in autumn 2019 and on “diet and diabetes” in summer 2020 in order to obtain more detailed information on the current research activities in these fields.
  • Funding of the three-year "IN FORM in der Gemeinschaftsverpflegung” project launched by the German Nutrition Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung - DGE). with a stronger focus on the target group of "senior citizens" who, with a range of different catering requirements, represent a challenge for communal catering. The aim is for more advisory, training and communication courses on senior nutrition to be offered nationwide to senior-citizen catering services and to multipliers, relations and the senior citizens themselves.
  • Publication and dissemination of the DGE Quality Standards for "institutions for senior citizens" and "meals on wheels": Commissioned by the BMEL, the German Nutrition Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung - DGE) developed quality standards for senior-citizen in-patient institutions and the suppliers of meals on wheels. The aim is to improve catering for older people and consequently to maintain their health and quality of life and prevent malnutrition.
  • Co-funding the three-year "Im Alter IN FORM – Gesunde Ernährung, mehr Bewegung, aktive Teilnahme in Kommunen fördern" project together with the National Association of Senior Citizens' Organisations (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Seniorenorganisationen - BAGSO): Content of the project: Training of multipliers and volunteer workers in the senior-citizen sector, who act as ambassadors for healthy eating in old age and disseminate important nutritional information in the municipalities.
  • Communal lunches for senior citizens: The BAGSO supports the provision of communal lunches for senior citizens. The aim is to create and permanently establish a sufficient number of communal lunches - particularly in rural regions. This has resulted inter alia in practical guidelines for the organisation of communal lunches. BAGSO’s IN FORM MitMachBox supports the coordinators of senior-citizen groups with day events on specific subjects relating to food and exercise.
  • Information on "66 tips for an enjoyable and active life at 66+": The brochure gives senior citizens suggestions about how they can improve their health and quality of life step by step - with a healthy diet and sufficient exercise.
  • The IN FORM fitness test on the IN FORM internet site allows users to assess their own eating and exercise habits.

Background - food and health

There are hardly any differences in the eating habits of the young and old in Germany: no matter whether young or old, people eat too much (red) meat (meat and sausage products), too few plant-based products (such as cereals, potatoes, fruit and vegetables), and too little fish; this is shown by ongoing surveys carried out by the Max Rubner Institute from March 2018.

Many people in Germany, and particular older people, are overweight. But one thing is certain: a balanced diet and sufficient exercise in younger years - but above all in later life - help greatly in preventing many complaints and offer a promising way to maintain the quality of life in later years.

The example of dementia

The risk of suffering from dementia, for example, is influenced by diet. A diet consisting predominantly of plant-based products can reduce the risk of dementia and slows the progress of the disease in those affected. Particular attention must be paid, in the case of those already suffering from the disease, to avoiding malnutrition.

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