Eating diets high in sugar and fat may not affect the health outcomes of older adults ages 75 and up, suggesting that placing people of such advanced age on overly restrictive diets to treat their excess weight or other conditions may have little benefit, according to a new study.
A decades-long collaborative study between Penn State and the Geisinger Health System focused on the effects of nutritional status and diet on the health of more than 20,000 older people living in Pennsylvania. In the current study, the team followed 449 individuals for five years who were on average 76.5 years old at the beginning of the study.
Using outpatient electronic medical records, the researchers identified whether the participants developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and metabolic syndrome during the five-year period. They found no relationship between dietary pattern and prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or mortality in the participants; however, they did find an increased risk of hypertension in people who followed the "sweets and dairy" pattern.
"Historically, people thought of older persons as tiny and frail," said Gordon Jensen, head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, "but that paradigm has changed for many older persons. Currently, 30 percent or more may be overweight, and by 2030, almost 30 percent are projected to be obese, not just overweight. Recent reports even suggest that there may be survival benefits associated with overweight and mild obesity status among the elderly."
The results appeared in this month's issue of the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging.
"We don't know if the participants had been following these dietary patterns their entire adult lives, but we suspect they had been because people don't usually change dietary practices all that much," Jensen said. "The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate. However, people who live on prudent diets all their lives are likely to have better health outcomes."