EU Science Hub

Healthy eating – healthy ageing?

Aug 04 2014

Nutritional shortcomings are a key driver of age-related decline and disability whereas proper diet can increase years of healthy life. In support of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (the Partnership), JRC scientists have reviewed the evidence on the role key nutrients and diet plays in promoting healthy ageing.

JRC scientists collected evidence on the prevention and treatment of age-related diseases with a focus on under-nutrition in older people, a main cause as well as a consequence of functional decline. The resulting report "The role of Nutrition in Active and Healthy Ageing" provides an important contribution to the overall target of the Partnership which is to increase the average healthy lifespan by two years by 2020, to enable EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives while ageing and to improve the sustainability and efficiency of social and health care.

Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals and their potential effects in the prevention and treatment of age-related diseases are given special attention in the JRC review. Results collected from intervention studies suggest that the benefit from using micronutrient supplements to prevent or treat diseases in older people appears to be limited at present, although this does not imply that supplements are not effective. Whole diet approaches such as the Mediterranean Diet which contain a range of essential vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds from natural food sources hold promise to promote health, increase longevity and reduce risks of age-related diseases.

The report aims at raising awareness of diet as a key contributor to healthy ageing. It reflects the present state of evidence which shows the vast potential of a proper diet. It highlights a number of future research opportunities with the ultimate aim to provide better guidance on diet and nutrition for older people through age-specific, up-to-date recommendations. The importance of initiatives in this area has also been emphasised by the recent Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity.

Europeans aged 65 and over are the fastest growing age group. Their proportion of the population is expected to grow from the current 17.4% to nearly 30% by 2060.The European Commission has launched the Partnership to tackle this challenge of an ageing population and to find solutions to close the gap between the increasing life expectancy and the number of years of life actually spent in healthy condition.