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Nutritional interventions for the aging in developing countries to reduce disease burden?

Research from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University

Tufts University

With the population of the world increasing rapidly, the number of people aged 60 years and older is expected to nearly triple by 2050. The majority of these elderly people will be living in the developing world, where the burden of disease is greater. In a special article published in Nutrition Reviews, researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University explore how undernutrition and immune decline contribute to infectious disease among elderly people in less-developed countries, and make suggestions for future research and intervention strategies.

"While elderly persons in industrialized nations have been striving toward, and largely attaining a state of successful aging, the newly emerging population of elderly persons in less-developed countries are quite far from this goal," says Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at the HNRCA."Because nutritional intervention strategies have been shown to be cost-effective among children in less-developed countries, the potential that a similar strategy could be used to decrease the burden of disease among the rapidly growing population of elderly is intriguing," write Meydani and her co-authors Ahou Meydani and Tanvir Ahmed.

Meydani explains that while both communicable (infectious) and non-communicable illnesses contribute to the burden of disease in this vulnerable population, "Infectious diseases can often be treated and cured, which would markedly reduce overall disease burden. It is difficult, however, to assess infectious disease prevalence in the elderly of the developing world because age-specific populations are generally not surveyed. Also, there may be marked variability from region to region."

Meydani, also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and co-authors suggest that elderly people in developing countries may benefit from nutritional intervention strategies similar to those that have successfully targeted undernourished children in these areas. "Nutrient enhancement via supplementation, food fortification or development of nutrient-rich crops may prove to be effective in reducing the burden of both infectious and non-infectious diseases," Meydani suggests.

In order to determine whether or not nutrient supplementation can reduce the risk of infection in the elderly of the less-developed world, research efforts need to focus on collecting data that is age-specific, cause-specific and region-specific.

"Once such trials are conducted," Meydani and her co-authors predict, "the fate of the elderly of the developing world will lie in the hands of the policy makers. Whether the quality of life of these elderly persons will be considered valuable enough to initiate nutritional interventions is not clear, as policy makers of the developing world are just beginning to have to contend with this population."

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Meydani A, Ahmed T, Meydani, SN. Nutrition Reviews, July 2005; 63(7). "Aging, Nutritional Status, and Infection in the Developing World."

If you are interested in learning more about these topics, or speaking with a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher at 617-636-6586, or Peggy Hayes at 617-636-3707.

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

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