EU project spotlights better health for longer living

Medical, technological and educational advances are providing Europeans with a new boost for life. Standards of living are better than ever and people are living longer. The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) says we can expect to live up to 78 years of age compared to the 72 years recorded in the 1980s. But Europeans are also living to just over 60 years without poor health or disabilities affecting their daily routines, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report 'Health at a Glance: Europe 2010'. The question is: can people live healthier for longer? A new EU-funded project is set to find out.

NU-AGE (New dietary strategies addressing the specific needs of elderly population for a healthy ageing in Europe) has clinched EUR 9 million under the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' (KBBE) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and is aiming to counteract both the cognitive and physical decline suffered by the elderly. Experts point out that the number of Europeans aged 65 and over is growing, and predict that this figure will reach 40?% of the general population in less than 19 years. Preventing age-related disease will also help burn fewer holes in our medical and social pockets.

Led by the University of Bologna in Italy, the NU-AGE consortium brings together 31 experts from the research, academic and industrial spheres. The partners will probe the impact of diet on European seniors, and provide critical insight into how they can live longer and healthier lives.

Experts believe that myriad environmental and biological factors influence ageing, and diet is one such factor. But research needs to elucidate how people's diet impacts the ageing process; little research has been conducted on the influence of diet on age-related conditions. Determining the optimal diet is also key.

To date, experts have discovered how food consumed by people can affect how inflammation develops. Data show that inflammation linked to ageing could influence the development of age-related diseases including type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and neurodegeneration.

Under the plan, the NU-AGE partners will design a novel food pyramid targeting people aged 65 and over. Food-based dietary guidelines used in Europe will be used to build the pyramid, which will depict the proportions of various foods that should form part of a balanced diet. The partners say the food pyramid, called NU-AGE 65+, will target the nutritional needs of the elderly by putting emphasis on nutrient density, water, dietary fibre, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Seniors will receive fortified food, and advice and support on how to modify their diets to match the pyramid. This information will help the NU-AGE team evaluate the effects of the food pyramid on health and ageing factors. The partners will also collect information about food intake as well as blood, urine and other samples, and the results will be compared to those of seniors who are not participating in the dietary intervention. The research study will also focus on the socioeconomic determinants for food choice.

"Through its work, NU-AGE will seek to fill the current lack of knowledge on how the whole diet can impact on and counteract age-related disease and functional decline. This will contribute to improved health and quality of life in our ageing population in Europe," says NU-AGE project coordinator Professor Franceschi from the University of Bologna.

The NU-AGE team says scientists, industry and policymakers could use the results of this study to their advantage. The results will also contribute to the work of the European Commission's Pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Health Ageing.

The NU-AGE partners are from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Copyright ©European Communities, 2011
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