Older Americans Fall Short on Recommended Nutrition

Too many middle-aged and seniors lack adequate nutrition, according to data extracted from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). The study shows that declines in food intake associated with aging deprive many older people of essential micronutrients needed for good health. Many older Americans turn to supplements to provide nutrition, but according to the MESA findings, older Americans still fail to get reccomended nutrition.

According to the findings, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, many older Americans are not getting adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Some are exceeding recommended guidelines with high dose supplements, while potassium, essential for normal cell function, is lacking both from food and supplements in our older population. The study included 6200 participants from four ethnic groups.

Food frequency questionnaires were provided to Hispanic, Chinese, African American and Caucasian adults, drawing information from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). The respondents also were asked about vitamin and mineral supplements, taken from their bottle labels. Over half of the group took nutritional supplements, primarily women, and mostly older educated Caucasian women.

The most common supplements used among the group were vitamin C and calcium. Dietary intake of foods containing other essential nutrients was comparable in all of the respondents, both men and women, regardless of supplement use.

Caucasians and Hispanics had significantly higher calcium intake than Chinese and African Americans. Chinese Americans had the lowest calcium intake.

The study also showed that many older people exceeded the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of calcium, magnesium and vitamin C. Potassium intake, from supplements and food, were found to be very low, not even meeting recommended guidelines.

Pamela J. Schreiner, MS, PhD, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, writes, “Future studies should explore dietary supplementation along with other methods to improve nutrition in middle-aged and older Americans."
Older Americans are either exceeding the recommended allowances for nutritional support from supplements , or falling short on dietary intake of nutrients No one in the study was getting enough potassium, regardless of supplement use.

The researchers recommend more studies to explore ways to improve nutrition in middle-aged and older Americans. Inadequate nutrition can only lead to increased vulnerability to illness.