Adequate nutrition is an important part of healthy ageing, helping to maintain health and independence into older age.
Improved understanding of the factors that affect diet in older people would help in the design of interventions that aim to promote healthy ageing. We have looked at this issue using data collected from HCS.
First, we used HCS data to explore the links between social and psychological factors and the quality or ‘healthiness’ of people’s diets. At baseline, diet quality was related to a range of psychosocial factors – but the most striking associations were with the level of participation in leisure activities. We found sizeable differences in diet quality across the spectrum of leisure activity; greater participation was associated with having a healthier diet. We also looked at how these same social and psychological factors might influence change in diet over time; our results pointed to the importance of the same personal factors, with higher baseline levels of participation in leisure activities being associated with smaller declines in diet quality over time. These associations were not explained by differences in social class, education or number of comorbidities.
Next, we held a series of focus groups with some of the HCS participants to discuss influences on diet, lifestyle and ageing. In total we ran 11 discussion groups with a total of 92 participants. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that various aspects of ageing had a significant impact on diet. This included food experiences over a long lifetime, the impact of retirement, bereavement, medical conditions, as well as environmental factors (such as transport or cost). We found that there were underlying psychological and social factors that appeared to influence how people responded to these influences. An important driver discussed by many was the need to “keep going” and the importance of being motivated. There was much discussion about social activities and isolation; of community spirit and loneliness.
These results are interesting because they suggest that future interventions to promote quality of diet may need to consider social engagement and psychological factors in their design, in order to have a beneficial impact on diet and health in later life.
Our first published paper describing this work is detailed below.
- Bloom I, Edwards M, Jameson KA, Syddall HE, Dennison E, Gale CR, et al. Influences on diet quality in older age: the importance of social factors. Age and Ageing. 2017;46(2):277-83.