Creating new diets to feed healthy old age

A new research network, involving University of Liverpool researchers, to co-create healthy, affordable foods and diets for older people has launched.

The Food4Years research network, funded by the UK Research Institute (UKRI), will look at the diets of older people and find new ways of tackling chronic malnourishment which leaves one in ten either at risk of or not eating the right diet.

New foods and diets will be considered as consumers, businesses, charities, and health professionals work together with academics from five universities to deliver changes that promote healthy, affordable foods and diets for older adults.

The network is led by the University of Reading in collaboration with researchers at the University of Liverpool, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leeds and the University of Surrey.

Dr Clegg, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading said:“Older people face many barriers when trying to follow a balanced diet, and not nearly enough attention is given to what support, guidance and food products are available to help us positively change our diets as we age. The Food4Years network aims to work together with consumers, businesses, charities and other organisations to understand and deliver a step change in the way we think about our diets as we get older.

“As one in ten people over 65 are at a risk or experience malnutrition, this is an issue that has major implications for public health. It’s therefore crucial that networks like Food4Years are able to find a menu for changing the way we understand, promote and create food that is healthy, convenient and affordable.”

Dr Mark Green, Lecturer in Health Geography in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Geography & Planning said: “We need to find ways that make healthy diets the default, helping adults to live long and healthy lives. The challenge here will be ensuring any strategies are affordable to everyone and sustainable in the context of climate change – sometimes recommendations for healthier diets do not meet these criteria and findings a balance will be critical.”

The Food4Years network is one of 11 new networks launched which aims to transform ageing research in the UK, funded with £2 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Previous reviews of how to boost ageing research in the UK have found research efforts to be fragmented, focusing on single aspects of ageing. Now these networks aim to provide researchers with strong interdisciplinary platforms to integrate expertise and knowledge across disciplines to deliver a better understanding of the biological mechanisms of ageing and how to increase healthy lifespan and quality of life in old age.

The networks also aim to increase collaboration with stakeholders – including working with the public, industry, charities, policymakers and health practitioners – to translate findings into policy, public health and new therapies.

 Professor Richard Faragher, Ageing Networks Macro Coordinator, said: “We are at the cusp of scientific developments that will transform health in later years. By being able to keep millions of older people healthy and out of hospital, we can hugely reduce costs and pressures on the NHS and GPs. Be in no doubt. A race is now on, and the countries and companies that can capitalise on the biology of ageing will dominate 21st century healthcare.”

 Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: “At the heart of improved health and wellbeing is a deep, integrated understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that contribute to maintaining health across the full life course. An understanding that is underpinned by collaboration, partnerships and shared knowledge. By funding the Ageing Networks, we’re not only addressing a major societal challenge – we’re also stimulating multidisciplinary research and innovation, with the potential for some really exciting breakthroughs.”

 Professor John Iredale, interim Executive Chair of Medical Research Council, said: “How to keep people healthier as they live longer is one of the biggest challenges facing 21st century medicine and our society. To make greater progress we need to transform how we conduct ageing research – both by bringing together scientists from many disciplines with the public, clinicians, policymakers and industry. The new networks we’re funding will build UK-wide collaborations to better understand the fundamentals of ageing, paving the way towards the development of novel interventions to prevent, halt or reverse aberrant ageing.”