The study was conducted by the Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science in partnership with the Food Industry Promotional Agency of Korea, focusing on 180 older adults with a mean age of 82.7 years.
According to the study’s authors, long-term consumption of designated senior-friendly foods – a category established by South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) back in 2017 – has yielded a clear improvement in terms of various areas concerning quality of life such as frailty, nutrition and malnutrition rates.
“154 adults were observed in the senior-friendly diet intervention group, and 26 in the general diet group, and for the former improvements were seen in various parameters including energy, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium intake,” they stated.
“Even after the passage of time, the improvement effects significantly differed between the groups [so we can conclude that the provision of foods] corresponding to the physiological needs of older adults has a great impact on improving their quality of life, and such special consideration is a reasonable way to [benefit] a super-aged society.”
MAFRA responded with expected exuberance to this update, highlighting that at present a total of 113 products from some 25 companies – including household brands from industry giants Hyundai Green Food, Shinsegae Food and Pulmuone amongst others – have already been designated as senior-friendly foods.
“By 2025, Korea is expected to become a super-aged society with over 20% of our population aged 65 and above,” MAFRA Food Industry Policy Officer Yang Joo-pil said in a formal statement.
“As such, this is an important time for the food industry to respond to this need, and we do expect that more and more food brands will be entering this market.
“[This study] empirically shows that the senior-friendly food designation system – based on parameters such as product hardness, viscosity, nutritional content and more – is a viable and excellent strategy to take.”
Based on the study results, a major key improvement highlighted was a decrease in overall malnutrition rates from 11.7% to 6.5%, contributing to overall health status improvement such as significant decreases in blood sugar, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.
“There are three types of logos issued to products that have been designated as senior-friendly foods,” MAFRA added.
“A Stage 1 classification means the food is ingestible by seniors that still have teeth, Stage 2 is for those that need to depend on gums, and Stage 3 is for those without the former and need to depend on the tongue alone.”
South Korea’s ageing population
The study also highlighted that South Korea has overtaken other nations to emerge first in the world in terms of the rate of ageing, due to Korean females having a life expectancy of 86.6 years.
What is more worrying is the fact that single-person households are extremely common inn the country, even when it comes to the elderly, yet many of these have chronic diseases such as hypertension or dyslipidemia, which further calls for specialised foods to be developed for this demographic.
“Special meals for older adults are absolutely necessary and must be adopted according to the circumstances of each country,” said the authors.
“The improvement of various health conditions when using senior-friendly foods also leads to medical cost reduction - For instance, the decrease in blood glucose will result in saving KRW610,000 (US$468.42) per person annually and KRW706.8bn (US$542.8mn) for older adults aged 65 years or older by our report.”
Study: Nutritional Status and Frailty Improvement through Senior-Friendly Diet among Community-Dwelling Older Adults in South Korea
Authors: Shin H., et. al.