Come January our televisions are flooded with images of shiny gyms and membership offers. Full page adverts are taken out across newspapers and magazines for Weight Watchers and Slimming World. Billboards and bus stops entice us with celebrity cook books and exercise regimes. Whilst it’s not unexpected to put on a few pounds over the festive period and the desire to get fit and healthy is a positive one, this dominant focus on the benefits of losing weight invites a bigger question – is our diet culture damaging for older people?
It’s estimated that 1 in 10 older people in Scotland are at risk or are suffering from malnutrition and this is predicted to worsen with the country’s ageing population. The Eat Well Age Well project from Food Train is focused on the number of older people who are not eating enough and becoming under-nourished.
Although there are many risk factors that can increase the risk of malnutrition for an older person such as physical barriers, inability to access local shops or to cook, low mood, loneliness and food poverty, there is also a mentality that needs to be addressed to challenge outdated beliefs about ageing.
How many times have you heard that ‘It’s normal to lose weight as you get older?’ or known an older person or relative to gradually get thinner and think it’s nothing out of the ordinary? The belief that weight loss is an inevitable part of ageing is a myth and could in fact be a red flag that the person is at risk of malnutrition.
The Food First advice for anyone at risk of malnutrition is to increase their calorie intake and the amount of protein in their diet. This is as simple as using full fat milk or cream in teas, coffees, cereal or porridge, adding butter or sprinkling cheese on top of meals or adding in extra snacks throughout the day. Conveying this message to older people and the wider public can be a tricky one because we are asking people to challenge strongly held messages that have influenced our thinking and behaviour that higher calorie foods are wrong or to be avoided. Yet for an older person it could save them from the health consequences from not eating enough.
If you have any concerns or questions about malnutrition, then please contact Eat Well Age Well for support and advice.
Written by Danielle Redmond Gray, Digital Communications Officer for Eat Well Age Well
Eat Well Age Well offers support and resources on preventing malnutrition in older people across Scotland.