C P G M de Groot and W A van Staveren

Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

© 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

The population older than 55 years of age is increasing rapidly throughout the world. In industrialized countries, the proportion of elderly people will increase by approximately 1% per year; in developing countries an increment of approximately 3% per year is expected. The nutritional needs of this population will require increasingly more attention from professionals working in the food industry as well as in health care.

Aging is defined as all physiological changes that occur from conception until old age and ultimately death. In this article, the term is restricted to changes that occur in adulthood, when growth has stopped.

On the one hand, nutrition is considered one of the key determinants in the process of aging. On the other hand, age-related changes take place in body appearance, in functional capacity and in the body's capacity to adapt to physical stress that affects nutritional needs.

It is difficult to distinguish between changes due to old age per se and changes that are the consequences of disease. In this article, the effects of aging on body composition, including energy needs and problems of over- and underweight, bone mass, and water balance are discussed. Physiological functions of the digestive system, malabsorption, nutrient drug interactions, and consequences for nutritional requirements are described, together with the high-risk micronutrients and early warning signs for malnutrition.

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