The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Health and Fitness

January 17, 2013

Restrictive diet may have little benefit on elderly health

— DANVILLE — Maybe Grandma and Grandpa were right when they said you should be allowed to eat what you want in your golden years.

A new study by researchers from Geisinger Health System and The Pennsylvania State University found that aside from treating high blood pressure, diet may not affect the health outcomes of older adults age 75.

The research — which followed 449 individuals from rural central Pennsylvania for five years who were on average 76.5 years old at the beginning of the study — suggests that placing adults over 75 on overly restrictive diets to treat their excess weight or other conditions may have little benefit at that age.

The study was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Nutrition Health and is one of the first to examine obesity-related health outcomes and dietary patterns in people of this age.

“These findings support the value of eating a healthy diet in the management of high blood pressure in older adults. But we did not observe any other strong associations between dietary patterns and health outcomes or mortality in persons 75 years of age,” said study co-author Christopher Still, D.O., FACN, FACP, director, Geisinger Obesity Institute and director, Geisinger Center for Nutrition and Weight Management. “So our research fails to support the use of overly restrictive diet prescriptions for older persons, especially where food intake may be inadequate.”

Researchers assessed the study participants’ dietary patterns five times during a 10-month period by asking them about their diets over the previous 24 hours. Participants were categorized by these three dietary patterns:

Sweets and dairy — characterized by the largest proportions of energy from baked goods, milk, sweetened coffee and tea and dairy-based desserts, and the lowest intakes of poultry.

Health-conscious — characterized by relatively higher intakes of pasta, noodles, rice, whole fruit, poultry, nuts, fish and vegetables, and lower intakes of fried vegetables, processed meats and soft drinks.

Western — characterized by higher intakes of bread, eggs, fats, fried vegetables, alcohol and soft drinks, and the lowest intakes of milk and whole fruit.

Using Geisinger outpatient electronic health records, researchers identified whether the participants developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and metabolic syndrome during the five-year period. They found no relationship between dietary pattern and prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or mortality in the subjects; although they did find an increased risk of hypertension in people who followed the “sweets and dairy” pattern.

“Although dietary patterns were significantly associated only with hypertension in this study, older adults should still be encouraged to consume balanced diets that enhance quality of life while also providing pleasure from food,” Still said.

G. Craig Wood, a statistical analyst for the Geisinger Obesity Institute, was also an author of the study.

The team’s research is part of a decades-long collaborative study between Geisinger Health System and Penn State on the effects of nutritional status and diet on the health of more than 20,000 older people living in Pennsylvania.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service funded this research. Penn State authors included Gordon Jensen, head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences; Pao Ying Hsiao, a postdoctoral fellow; Diane Mitchell, researcher in nutritional sciences; Donna Coffman, research assistant professor of health and human development; and Terryl Hartman, professor of nutrition.

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