31 May 2016

Older people should have better food: Malnutrition costs billions


Every second older person loses weight unintentionally when living in a nursing home or during hospitalization, and 20% of frail, dependent older people weigh too little. This reduces the quality of life for older people and costs society DKK 6 billion a year. A white paper from the University of Copenhagen and Madkulturen maps the sum of our knowledge of food for older people and indicates that tastier food and better social meal environment may be factors that strengthen the health of older people and save society billions.

A pilot project in the municipality of Roskilde, conducted by Madkulturen, has shown that food workshops, where older people meet once a week and cook and eat together, give great enjoyment and especially strengthen the sense of togetherness and community. Photo: Madkulturen.

Too many older people eat too little, become ill and have a poor quality of life. This has serious consequences for the individual older person, and often makes it harder for them to cope with daily tasks such as personal care, cleaning, etc. At the same time there will be 50% more Danes above the age of 65 in the course of the next 30 years. Society is facing a major challenge. It is for this reason that the University of Copenhagen and Madkulturen have mapped the total research-based knowledge of meals for the elderly in a white paper.

We overlook the most basic elements

The conclusion of the white paper indicates that some of the challenges arise because we overlook the basics when we deal with food for our oldest citizens: while we know a lot about the nutrients content required in the food, there is very little research into the food's culinary quality, the framework for the meal, and the importance of socializing.

The Director of Madkulturen, Judith Kyst, encourages both local authorities and researchers to base their guidelines on the older people themselves: “We know that the more the older person can do by themselves, the better their health will be. Therefore, it is evident that we involve older people in order for them to be as self-sufficient as possible, and that we make their wishes and needs the basis when we plan the food that they can no longer prepare themselves. Food should be enjoyed - and not just be about nutrition, hygiene and economy.”

Head of Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, Professor, DMSc Arne Astrup has, together with the working group from the University of Copenhagen, identified some areas where there is great need for more knowledge about what can make a difference in relation to the health of older people: “Many studies aimed at improving older people's nutritional status focus primarily on industrially produced energy and protein rich beverages, and not on whether meals with high culinary quality can have a positive effect. When we think that the culinary quality of the food and the meal environment are essential, we must be able to show it - so it also becomes a priority in reality.”

Neighbour help with food for older people?

The authors of the white paper estimate that the total cost of a targeted effort toward better meals for the elderly would be more than covered by the benefits from an improvement in their health. However, the challenge is that the cost savings are not immediately beneficiary to the providers of meals for older people: “It is unfortunate that the relationship between costs and the savings good meals for older people would create are potentially a barrier for the creation of meals of sufficient nutritional and gastronomic quality for older people”, says Professor Arne Astrup.

He is supported by Judith Kyst, who points out that there is a need for more knowledge about where best to target changes: ”It may be the price ceiling for delivered food, the contractual stipulations of food delivery services, the optimization of transport routes, and food wastage. Or it may also be the development of new and more flexible concepts for the production of meals for older people. As an example, it could be made more economically attractive for neighbours, friends and family to help with food preparation and sharing a meal with the older person.”

Download Gourmet. Good, Nutritious Meals for All Older People
Whitepaper on providing nutritious, high-quality meals for older people

The white paper is produced by

Professor Susanne Gjedsted Bügel, Chairman
Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen

Professor Wender Bredie
Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen

Project Manager Andreas Buchhave Jensen

Associate Professor Jørgen Dejgård Jensen
Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen

Project Consultant Christine Bagge Petersen

Food and meal consultant Karen Leth
Danish Diet & Nutrition Association, loaned to Madkulturen

As external expertise has been associated

Senior Researcher Anne Marie Beck
Herlev Hospital

MD, scientific writer Jerk W. Langer

Further information

Head of Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS), Professor, DMSc Arne Astrup, Phone: +45 2143 3302 E-mail ast@nexs.ku.dk

Professor Susanne Gjedsted Bügel, Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports (NEXS), Phone +45 3533 2490 E-mail: shb@nexs.ku.dk

Head of Communications at Madkulturen Rikke Houkjær, Phone: +45 5050 6249 E-mail: rikkeh@madkulturen.dk