30 Nov The strength of dairy in the diets of the elderly
A study published recently in the British Medical Journal indicated positive links between dairy intake and significant reductions in bone fractures and falls among the elderly.
The randomised controlled trial took place over a two-year period in 60 aged care facilities in Victoria, Australia. Half of the 7,000 participants continued with their regular diet, with the other half increasing their dairy intake from an average of 2 to 3.5 serves per day. Food products used to increase dairy intake included milk, cheese, yoghurt and skim milk powder.
When comparing the increased dairy intake group to the control, this study found a 33% reduction in all fractures including a 46% reduction in hip fractures, and a 11% reduction in falls in the group having more dairy in their diet. The elderly residents (average age 86 years) in this group also demonstrated significant improvement in lean mass (appendicular) and bone mineral density over the course of the 2-year study compared to the control group. More lean mass (legs and arms) and higher bone mineral density may have contributed to the reduction in falls and fractures.
At the onset of the trial, the participants had below recommended daily intake levels of both calcium and protein – common for institutionalised elderly individuals. This must be considered when applying the results further as initial intake levels may determine the positive effect of increased dairy in the diet. Nonetheless, such results will be beneficial to consider in the implementation of public health measures for fracture and fall prevention in this demographic.
With an aging population globally, it is now more critical than ever to consider nutritional interventions as a public health measure in the aged care setting and wider community. The health of this demographic has been shown to be significantly influenced by dairy intake. This must be considered as we look to the future and explore our food production systems, which must provide future generations with the required nutrients to support healthy ageing and avoid preventable injury.