Aging, food, culture and health Academic Article uri icon


  • International comparison of food intake and health studies amongst the aged is providing new insight into the importance of food culture in social context for healthy aging. At same time the possible variance in eating behavior compatible with good health requires consideration. The IUNS (International Union of Nutritional Sciences) FHILL (Food Habits in Later Life) Project, comprises (1) a morbidity study on about 2,000 elderly in 13 communities (now available on CD Rom) and (2) a mortality follow-up study. In the morbidity study, a total health assessment score or Later Life Status Score (LLSS) has been considered in relation to non-nutritional and nutritional factors. The elderly Greek cohorts aged 70+ in Melbourne. Australia (M = 94, F = 95) and Spata, Greece (M = 51, F = 53) have been used as a model for multivariate analyses to determine separately the importance of non-nutritional (well-being, memory, general health, medication-use, activities of daily living, exercise, social activity and social networks scores) and nutritional variables (intake of food groups g/day, food group variety scores, nutrients) in accounting for LLSS. A mortality follow-up study on the elderly cohort in Spata, Greece has also been completed and published. The findings from these preliminary analyses on the Greek cohorts will be reviewed as an example of how food culture may be influencing both quality of life and survival in Greek elderly. The most important non-nutritional determinants of LLSS in Greeks included: mobility and independence (exercise and activities of daily living), well-being and memory (collectively explained 80% of the variation of LLSS). For nutritional variables, a high intake and variety of plant foods (in particular vegetables, legumes and fruit); a high intake and variety of seafood and a low intake of meat emerged with statistical and biological significance. Results from the mortality study also agree with findings from the morbidity study--particularly the importance of the overall traditional greek food culture, with its emphasis on plant derived food of various kinds, as opposed to individual food categories, in protecting against premature death. Strategies are advanced which may optimise nutritionally related health problems amongst the aged around the globe.

publication date

  • December 1, 1997