The importance of eating well in later life

hero-fruit-and-veg-buyersBlog written by Alice Roe, Health Influencing Officer, Age UK

This week is the first UK Malnutrition Awareness Week, a joint project from the Malnutrition Task Force and BAPEN, to raise awareness of the importance of keeping to a healthy weight and eating well in later life.

Food is vital for our health and wellbeing. But more than this, for many of us, food is one of the greatest joys in life. From memories of birthday cakes as a child, to meals shared with friends and families, food is something that we should continue to look forward to throughout life.

But unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

Although many of us believe that malnutrition, or undernutrition, has been confined to the history books, the reality is different. In the UK one in ten people over 65 – around one million altogether – are undernourished or at risk of undernourishment.

This means that they’re not eating well enough to maintain their health and wellbeing.

As well as making you feel unwell, being undernourished can slow down recovery from illness or surgery.

This Malnutrition Awareness Week, we want to bust the myth that getting thinner is a ‘normal’ part of ageing and encourage everyone to take unexplained weight loss in later life seriously.

Getting thinner isn’t a normal part of ageing

Undernourishment often occurs because there is a perception that losing weight is ‘normal’ in later life and that being overweight is more of a concern. But this isn’t the case.

This misconception isn’t helped by public health messages that focus on reducing levels of obesity and are often confusing for older people at risk of malnutrition. We all know that obesity causes serious health consequences, but we also need to understand that there are consequences if we don’t eat enough.

Unfortunately, this means that many of us don’t worry about weight loss in later life or recognise the signs. This means that undernutrition can often go unnoticed until it starts to seriously undermine a person’s health and wellbeing.

But keeping to a healthy and stable weight is one of the most important ways to maintain health and wellbeing as we age.

What can you do?

This Malnutrition Awareness Week we’re calling on everyone to be aware of the importance of keeping to a healthy weight as we age, to recognise the signs of unexplained weight loss and to act.

With many of us believing that it’s normal to lose weight in later life, it can be easy for weight to drop off without noticing.

Keeping an eye on your weight is important but there are also more subtle signs to look out for. Loose fitting clothes, jewellery slipping off and tightening belt buckles an extra notch can all be signs of not eating enough.

Health and wellbeing are also indicators. Changes in mood, catching more colds or feeling more tired than usual can also be signs of weight loss. Depression, loneliness or experiencing a recent bereavement can also affect appetite and diet.

If you are concerned about weight loss in yourself or someone you care for, make an appointment to see your GP. They will be able to rule out any serious illnesses and refer you to a dietician if more specialist advice is needed.

There are also a number of small things you can do for yourself to increase appetite and food intake. Eating six small meals and snacks a day are as good as three main meals, and can sometimes feel more manageable. As you’re trying to put on weight, full fat foods like milk and yoghurt are the ones you should be opting for. And remember, it’s better to eat something than nothing at all – so think about your favourite foods and eat small portions of these.

More tips and advice can be found in the Malnutrition Task Force guides, available on our website.

You can also try the BAPEN Malnutrition Self-Screening Tool. By entering your current weight and height, and your weight 6 months ago, this simple online tool can tell you if you are at risk of malnutrition.

Getting thinner is not a normal part of ageing. We all have a responsibility to look out for our family, friends and neighbours, to know the signs of unintentional weight loss, and how to act.

By knowing these important nuggets of information, we can go far in improving our health in later life.


More information about Malnutrition Awareness Week can be found on the Malnutrition Task Force website.


5 thoughts on “The importance of eating well in later life”

  1. You call over 65s pensioners. That is technically incorrect now. People born in the 1950s, say me born 1954 do not retire until January 2020 ie 65 and 7 months. People born after me have to wait even longer. Women in my age group have now got failing health, have been made redundant, or cannot find a job because age descrimination exists. Some of us struggle daily to eat, never mind eat healthily. Suggest you do more research Age Uk

  2. Many women now cannot afford to eat at all following the increase in pension age, many women between 60 and 66 (now pension age), are choosing between eat and heat, or losing their homes. The employment market was not geared to employ women over 60 looking for work. Perhaps one of the reasons the mortality rate has stalled and in some areas going backwards. Health and wealth go hand in hand.

  3. Talking about over 65s eating well, soon the SPA will be 66 and rising again, how are older people who can’t work supposed to eat well? 1950s women have been hit by TWO state pension age rises and many are begging for benefits whilst being forced to search for non existent jobs, being denied sickness benefits because they are still breathing. As co-founder of the ‘Protest against the 2011 accelerated State Pension Age increase’ group I could tell you about the widows and single women born in the mid to late 1950s, having to go to food banks to survive. Winter is coming and they will be choosing whether to eat or heat, no winter fuel allowance for them even though women just slightly older have their state pension by now and all the perks that go with it because the 2011 age rise was so badly and unfairly worked out. One year’s difference in age can mean 3+ years difference in state pension age. Age UK need to write about these women and urge the government to take their plight seriously.

  4. i have little or no appetite. im 76 yrs old. and although i never lived to eat, only ate to live, since becoming diabetic, with IBS, acid reflux and now iron deficiency and having gone off red meat, and fish,over a year ago only eat deli meats but no beef.or spicy meats ..i no longer know what to eat to keep blood sugars down, iron content up without risking bowel or stomach problems like the heartburn ive had this last 2 week through drinking only a small amount of tomato juice on 2 consecutive days. the 2 days before it started. drink is something else. dont use alcohol. or fruit juices. drink coffee made with skimmed milk but only at breakfast then 1-2 more later in day.that gives me stomach ache.had to go ob decaf. and try get a 2hour nap in afternoon. not always possible. tea i went off over a year ago. going to a dietician doesnt help if you simply dont want so many foods. they simply tell you what you SHOULD eat. whether you can or not. this just makes things worse.

  5. In order to eat well, you need to have the income to buy the food. Something has to go if you want to keep the roof over your head. What about all the 1950s born women left with no pension until the age of 66? No job, no benefits and no state pension, having to exist on savings. Those savings were meant to supplement the state pension. For savings to last, everything has to be rationed including food. So, having reached state pension age, food continues to be rationed as savings all gone. Must be men who are also affected but they are more likely to have a workplace pension plus will have earned more and therefore will have more savings.

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