Healthy aging is a hot topic these days as the U.S. population is older than it has ever been. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of persons age 65 and older will reach 80.8 million by 2040. This growing population of aging adults will impact just about every aspect of American life — the health care environment, economy, consumer landscape, and family dynamics — and opportunities exist for dairy foods.

At the same time that Americans are growing older, there is growing support for the “food is medicine” philosophy and resulting programs, which advocate for a connection between diet and disease treatment, management, and prevention. Emerging research is also showing positive impacts of dairy foods on numerous conditions affecting older adults.

Chronic diseases: Older adults have unique nutritional needs that support optimal health and enhance quality of life for healthy aging. Research shows milk and yogurt reduce the risk of obesity and inflammation, which are connected to chronic diseases. In addition, low-fat dairy foods and milk reduce the risk of hypertension, while yogurt lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Bone and muscle: Older adults are at greater risk for health conditions related to bone and muscle mass loss, including osteoporosis and sarcopenia. One study published in The BMJ found that nursing home residents who increased their intake of milk, yogurt, and cheese from an average of two servings per day to three and a half servings per day demonstrated a 33% reduction in all fractures after just six months, a 46% reduction in hip fractures, and an 11% reduction in falls. Nutrient-rich dairy foods provide high-quality protein to help maintain muscle as well as bone-building nutrients important during bone remodeling that takes place post-menopause.

Cognition: Newly published research investigated the association between dairy intake and the risk of incident dementia in older adults. It found that daily yogurt consumers had a reduced risk for dementia and that yogurt intake might be inversely associated with dementia risk. Overall, evidence suggests that dietary patterns with higher variety may reduce the risk of dementia in older adults. However, more high-quality research is needed.

By working together to educate the public and private sectors — including policymakers, the health care community, and consumers — dairy advocates can help elevate the health of older adults and maintain dairy foods’ position as an essential part of daily healthy eating patterns across the lifespan.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
July 1, 2024
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