By Swati Dalal
Super-aging is much more than just a clever name to describe our graying population; it will soon be a reality for several countries from Pacific Asia to Latin America. Around the world, the population aged 65 and older is growing faster than all other age groups. By 2030, there will be 34 “super-aged” countries — countries with more than 20% of their population at least 65 years old, and by 2050, 1 in 6 people around the world will be over the age of 65.
Although these statistics illustrate how our world will look overall, what do they mean for each of our unique regions? By 2050, people aged 60 and over are expected to account for 35% of the population in Europe, 28% in Northern America, 25% in Latin America and the Caribbean and 24% in Asia. In fact, if we look at India, the challenge of caring for its aging population is currently manageable, but the sheer scale of India’s demographic shift — almost 320 million Indians will be older than 60 by 2050 — is already driving change. This demographic shift will impact the healthcare system, the economy and society at large.
What’s Driving This Global Growth and its Impact?
People are living longer. The global life expectancy is about 72.98 years as of 2022, an increase of 24 years since 1955. Much of this is due to advances in public health education and medicine. Additionally, birth rates and fertility have declined significantly. People across the globe are having fewer children or no children at all, and many women don’t have kids until they’re older. This means fewer people will be available to provide care for this super-aged population, and fewer people of working age will be contributing to the economy.
And while many adults around the world are living longer, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are living healthier. Low muscle mass is a common occurrence among older adults, and it can impact energy levels and mobility, increase risk for falls and fractures, and even slow recovery from illness or surgery. Not only that, aging of India’s population may also lead to an increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. As per reports, nearly one-half (45 percent) of India’s disease burden is projected to be borne by older adults in 2030, when the population age groups with high levels of chronic conditions will represent a much greater share of the total population.
The demographic shifts due to aging can influence the healthcare system, the economy and society, which is why governments, healthcare systems, private and public organizations around the world are working to develop policies and public services for older adults. One simple and cost-effective solution is to focus on nutrition.
Now more than ever, prioritizing proper nutrition is critical to keeping the world’s aging population healthy, independent, and active.
How Can Nutrition Help?
Proper nutrition is the foundation for living your best life – from helping children grow, to keeping adult bodies strong and active. Malnutrition and muscle loss are often-hidden health conditions experienced by many older adults which can impact everything from mobility and energy to the immune system and organ function. Good nutrition can help reverse or prevent malnutrition in older adults and support their muscle health. Research shows identifying and treating malnutrition at the point of care can help reduce the length of treatment and hospital stays, decrease the use of medical resources and lower the total cost of care – all while improving the health and wellbeing of patients.
In fact, in a recent study conducted in Colombia, older adults at risk for malnutrition had improved nutritional status following a nutrition care program which included oral nutrition supplements and education on the importance of diet and exercise. The individuals in the study also experienced significant improvement in nutrition-related anthropometric measures (body weight and BMI). Such findings provide a rationale for implementing comprehensive nutrition-focused programs for community-dwelling adults.
The focus needs to be on a balanced diet and physical exercise to maintain good health. In fact, experts tell us that one of the most important aspects of promoting overall health, and resilience, as we or our loved ones grow older, is to build muscle strength, and immunity and prevent malnutrition and muscle loss.
When you follow a balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and key vitamins and minerals, it lowers the risk of nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases, as you age. It also gives body the nutrition it needs to function correctly. Protein is especially important for aging adults. It provides the building blocks for muscles and provides important strength and energy to help adults stay active.
While aging is inevitable, it is imperative to identify solutions that could promote healthy aging with the goal to live stronger, healthier lives. Now, is the time to adopt healthy habits including good nutrition and physical activity to help prevent malnutrition and muscle loss, especially in adults to help them maintain good quality life.
(The author is a General Manager, Abbott Nutrition. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)