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12th January 2017

Eating for Health in 2017

Eating for Health in 2017

Data from a survey of 1000 UK adults by OnePoll in October last year showed a high level of confusion about healthy eating advice in the general population (75%), which was even higher in consumers aged over 55 (82%). And for our very old and vulnerable the concept of ‘healthy eating’ may be even more confusing.

Obesity is a major health concern, but it can overshadow the risk of malnutrition

The concentration on obesity as a public healthy priority in the general population is an understandable concern. Undeniably obesity is a major health issue that affects people of all ages and places a growing burden on the health system.  But it can overshadow other risks - not least that today 3 million people in the UK are at risk from malnutrition, and a large proportion of these are elderly.

General healthy eating advice may not be relevant to vulnerable, older people

A new report The Knowledge: Eating for Health published by catering company Apetito recognises that, particularly in the older or vulnerable population, nutritional guidelines aren’t always relevant. Individualised nutritional needs for older people and those with health issues can be complex. Yet it is vital that health and care professionals provide appropriate support from a nutritional as well as a broader health perspective.

Rather than a blanket ‘healthy eating’ approach in our very old population, Individual nutrition care planning can help to recognise the complex interplay between health and diet, the importance of hydration, and the social aspects of eating.

The Apetito report includes five calls to action, providing specific recommendations to support health and social care professionals. These are as follows:

  1. There is a need to shift the conversation from ‘healthy eating’ to ‘eating for health’, recognising the growing and very different challenges of obesity and under-nutrition. One size does not fit all.
  2. Foods and drinks are vital to health and recovery. Diet and nutrition must play a more prominent role in healthcare professional training in order to recognise the part nutrition plays in recovery from illness.
  3. Hydration is easily overlooked but must not be forgotten as key in preserving health.
  4. Patients in hospitals and residents in care settings deserve to eat 'good' food which will support their recovery, regardless of whether it meets a particular campaign standard.
  5. It is important not to forget the dining experience and the vital part it plays in eating for health. The nutritional value of an uneaten meal is zero.

Poor awareness about undernutrition is compounded by government advice on healthy eating that recommends people reduce their calorie intake. People want to do the right thing and follow government advice so they, for example, eat low-fat dairy foods like yoghurts and skimmed milk when what they really need is energy rich food.

Eating for Health rather than Healthy Eating may be a more applicable concept for service users

Healthy eating can mean something different for older vulnerable people at risk of malnutrition – what matters is what’s healthy for the individual.

Let’s keep that in mind for 2017 and beyond.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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