In a study published in the journal Nutrients, older adults who consumed a range of “senior-friendly foods” increased their quality of life with improvements in frailty levels and reductions in malnutrition rates.
South Korea: On track to become a ‘super-aged society’
“By 2025, Korea is expected to become a super-aged society with over 20% of our population aged 65 and above,” said Yang Joo-pil, food industry policy officer for South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA).
“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,” he added in a statement.
“[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.”
Government initiatives include ‘S mark’ label
Findings by the study authors from Kyung Hee University Graduate School of East-West Medical Science in partnership with the Food Industry Promotional Agency of Korea appear to validate the government’s focus on the elderly that began in 2018.
In amendments to the local Food Code, foods manufactured to enable the elderly to more easily eat or digest it, or contain nutritional profiles designed for this population could be classified as ‘elderly-friendly food.’
The government followed this up in 2021, with the introduction of an ‘S mark’ certification that these products are able to display on their food labelling.
A number of popular foods have passed the review that include Hyundai Green Food’s Softer branded pork and beef stews and hamburg steak, Pulmuone’s Foodmerce’s ready-to-eat meal range, and Shinsegae’s Easy Balance branded beef bulgogi mousse and grilled flounder mousse.
Study details: Malnutrition rate fall from 11.7% to 6.5%
The latest scientific report highlighted the size of Korea’s senior-friendly food industry as second among all industries, with a current net worth of KRW17.6 billion (€12bn).
The study’s prime objective was to scientifically verify whether nutritional intake and clinical indicators were affected by the development of a diet in which senior-friendly foods were provided to older adults.
A total of 180 older adults were enrolled, with 154 and 26 in the senior-friendly diet intervention group and the general diet group, respectively. The participants’ mean age was 82.7 years, and 89.4% of them were living alone.
Surveys, blood tests, and frailty evaluations were conducted before and after the study. After five months of intervention, the blood status, nutrient intake, and frailty level were evaluated.
The main protein sources were meat, fish, tofu, and eggs.
Results revealed that in both groups, energy, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium intake were insufficient initially but generally improved after the intervention.
Further findings revealed that the frailty level also slightly improved, and the malnutrition rate was reduced from 11.7% to 6.5%.
The research team noted that even after the passage of time, the improvement effect size significantly differed between the groups.
“The improvement in nutritional status or frailty indicators in this study was considered to be due to the complex application of an increase in diet intake, which was a problem, eventually leading to an increase in nutrients intake, and a management education program to maintain,” the research team noted.
“Special meals for older adults are absolutely necessary and must be adopted according to the circumstances of each country.”
Senior food could spur society-wide savings
The team also suggested that improvements of various health conditions were possible when consuming senior-friendly foods that would also lead to medical cost reductions.
“The decrease in blood glucose will result in saving KRW610,000 (€418,000) per person annually and KRW706.8bn (€484.2m) for older adults aged 65 years or older,” the study noted.