How to encourage the elderly to eat more vegetables

According to the World Health Organization, consuming plenty of vegetables and aiming for variety reduces the risk of a significant number of diseases such as stroke, type II diabetes and certain forms of cancer. In practice, however, people rarely achieve these quantitative and qualitative objectives, in Europe or in the United States.

That makes this study, which was conducted simultaneously in France, Italy and the United Kingdom, all the more relevant, as it examines the determinants of vegetable intake in the elderly.  More specifically, the study investigated the reasons, behaviours and demographic parameters that cause the elderly to eat more or fewer vegetables and/or vary their intake among a sample of 497 adults aged 65 years or over (187 in France, 152 in Italy and 158 in the United Kingdom).

Too few vegetables, not enough variety

The conclusion of this study is simple and not at all surprising. In all the countries studied, vegetable consumption does not meet the WHO guideline (of at least 2 to 3 servings of vegetables a day). The same conclusion is valid for the variety of vegetables consumed, which is very low at this age, in all three countries. These results mean measures must be taken to raise people’s awareness and intervene in this age group of the population.
Other relevant observations were made that can help eliminate any barriers for consumption. Demographic variables and the social dimension proved to be important factors. Older senior citizens tend to consume more vegetables and vary their intake more compared with younger senior citizens. Social status is also a determining factor: while the most affluent senior citizens consume more vegetables, this does not mean their intake is more varied.

Various reasons

Liking vegetables (or the lack of food neophobia) is a determining factor for the quantities and/or the variety of vegetables these adults consume. Breaking the monotony of foods that are too familiar and which are eaten daily is also a key factor. Their health benefits are not sufficient to motivate people to eat greater quantities, but this does however prompt them to vary their intake. The only country where elderly persons find health benefits more important is the United Kingdom.

Surprisingly enough, greater quantities of vegetables and a more varied intake were more prevalent in northern Europe. The scores for the UK are higher than the scores for France and Italy but the reasons for this geographical disparity are still unclear.

In France, social standing, age and to a lesser extent neophobic behaviour all clearly influence vegetable consumption. In Italy, greater variety was associated with such factors as affordability and ease of preparation. These are all predictive factors that might contribute to improving the results of the health measures to be implemented among this population.

To find out more about the challenges of eating well for ageing gracefully, have a look at the reports of our Meeting in 2012

Appleton K.M. et al., Nutrients, 2017, 9(9), 923.