In the United States, diet has been linked to almost half of annual deaths from cardiometabolic disease, including diabetes. Adults with or at risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) are encouraged to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (such as beans). However, consumption of fruit and vegetables in this country is well below recommended levels, with just 10% of American adults meeting recommendations of two to three cups of vegetables per day. Among older adults, the fastest-growing segment of the population, poor diet quality is a major risk factor for chronic diseases, disability, frailty, and premature death.

Poor diet causes poor health

In a study from 2001 to 2018, the quality of food choices for nearly 11,000 adults aged 65 years or older was assessed, including consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and shellfish, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats, saturated fat and salt.

Isolation and loneliness

The most notable finding was the worsening over time of diet quality among older adults. The proportion of older US adults with poor diet quality increased by 10% from 51% to 61%, and the proportion with ideal diet stayed low (0.4%). One contributing factor may be increasing social isolation and loneliness, which makes it harder to get and prepare food and may encourage unhealthy eating behavior among older adults. Similarly, the risk of food insecurity is estimated to have more than doubled among older US adults during the past 20 years.

These findings suggest that most older Americans eat a poor diet. This is a public health crisis.


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