Europe is facing an ageing population. Life expectancy is at its highest and many European populations are going through major demographic changes and transition towards a much older population structure. However, despite living longer many people suffer ill-health or disability in the last 15 to 20 years of life. To encourage active healthy ageing and to help increase healthy life expectancy, the European Commission has launched the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (the Partnership), which aims to add an average of two healthy life years in Europe by 2020.
This report aims to support the Partnership and to review the contribution of diet and nutrition in increasing healthy life years and promoting active healthy ageing (AHA). The report gives a description of the key determinants of AHA including economic, social and behavioural contributions and how they can relate to diet. It focusses on the issue of undernutrition in older people – both a cause and consequence of functional decline. Given the importance of undernutrition and that micronutrient deficiency is a common problem in older adults, this report summarises the evidence on key micronutrient supplementations on prevention and treatment of age-related diseases and conditions. At this stage, the current evidence is not sufficient or strong enough to support the use of vitamin and mineral supplementation to improve health in the elderly. It does not follow that supplementation is not effective; there are many possible explanations for the lack of effects seen in the studies reviewed. However, as it stands, a better approach to ensure proper nutrition in the elderly is to improve their diet, to maximise their intake of essential vitamins and minerals from natural food sources. Indeed, the evidence from Mediterranean diet as a whole diet approach to promote health, increase longevity, and reduce the risks of a range age-related diseases risks supports this in a number of observational studies. A number of research gaps are also highlighted in this report. Further research is needed on the wider determinants of AHA e.g. social, economic and environmental aspects and their interrelationships with dietary behaviours in older people; to identify the most effective strategies to promote public health messages to the older population; further evidence on life-course approach to ageing; and to develop a set of validated, agreeable, cost-effective and non-invasive measures and tools to quantify AHA outcomes including the quality of diet, fitness, and well-being in older people. Above all, there is a need to provide better guidance on diet and nutrition for older population and a set of age-specific, up-to-date dietary recommendations is essential to achieve this.