Adapting diets to reduce the occurrence of Alzheimer's or osteoporosis and more generally to improve health among the elderly are some of the possibilities suggested by EU research on nutrition and health.

Specialists on the impact of nutrition on ageing are meeting in Brussels this week to assess the latest developments, envisage how their findings could be used by health authorities, the medical profession and the food and catering industry, and map out future avenues for research.

"Research on nutrition for the elderly is revealing new possibilities for the prevention of disease and better health for improved quality of life," said science and research commissioner Janez Potočnik. "The elderly form a growing proportion of our population. It is part of our policy on active ageing to ensure people live longer in good health. The research being presented today will make a significant contribution in this area."

The proportion of elderly people in Europe is currently around 20% and this is predicted to increase to 25% by 2020 (World Health Organisation, WHO 2002). The most dramatic demographic changes are in the oldest age group (80 years and over). In Europe, it is estimated that the number of people over 80 years will grow from 21.4 million in 2000 to 35 million in 2025. A number of factors, including nutrition, have contributed to this increase in life expectancy.

"As a target group for specialised foods, the elderly have received little attention compared to other population groups. Foods designed to satisfy their nutritional needs should be nutrient-dense familiar foods, available in convenient, easy-to-open packaging and reasonably priced," the Commission said.

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