Nutritional deficiences with seniors
Nanyang Polytechnic’s students have found that many seniors are currently healthy and leading active lifestyles, however, their daily nutritional intake is inadequate.
Health assessments conducted by students and staff from Nanyang Polytechnic’s (NYP) School of Chemical & Life Sciences (SCL) revealed a surprising and worrying trend – while many seniors are currently healthy and leading active lifestyles, their daily nutritional intake is inadequate. These nutritional deficiencies could have a negative impact on their later stage of life, as their level of activity declines or as their body ages further.
Deficiencies can lead to health issues
The survey, which was part of NYP’s Diploma in Food Science & Nutrition (DFSN) students’ final-year module assessment, aims to identify unhealthy eating habits and encourage healthy eating among the seniors so they can continue leading active and healthy lifestyles. In partnership with the People’s Association (PA), over 200 seniors, aged 50 to 75, from the North East Community Development Council (CDC) – Paya Lebar Active Aging Committee and Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Active Ageing Committee have been surveyed and assessed to date.
Dr Loke Wai Mun, lecturer and principal investigator at NYP’s new Centre for Functional Food & Human Nutrition (CFFHN) under SCL, said: “Results from the survey showed that the seniors are not consuming adequate amounts of dairy products, fruits and vegetables. As these food products contain essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres necessary to maintain health and well-being, deficiencies may lead to health issues, such as osteoporosis and weaker immune defence.
“Older adults are advised to consume four cups of fruits and vegetables, and three cups of dairy milk daily. Through this programme, the seniors will learn about the recommended daily nutritional intake and portions they should be taking in a simple, easy to gauge format,” he said.
He added that while the current sample size is not statistically representative of the wider senior population in Singapore, “we noticed a trend that nutrient deficiency is not only observed in seniors who are living alone, but also among those who live with their families/children. Hence, we would like to start by reminding the seniors and those who live with their families the importance of healthy eating.”
To encourage the adoption of a well-balanced diet, NYP’s students from DFSN partnered with the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Active Ageing Committee to undertake an early detection, early correction approach to seniors’ health.
Over 60 seniors living in the area – aged 50 to 75 – went to NYP’s new Centre for Functional Food & Human Nutrition for a physical assessment. One of them was 72-year-old Lim Geok Hoi, who was more than happy to find out how she could eat better. The mother of three and grandmother of two said she actively participates five times a week in Meridian Exercise sessions conducted by the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Active Ageing Committee.
For breakfast and lunch, she usually buys cooked food from the market near her home and for dinner, she cooks a minimum of two dishes for herself and her daughter who is living with her. She shared: “My daughter doesn’t really like meat so our meals usually consist of vegetables, soup and steamed fish. I try to add as little salt as possible in my cooking.” Lim also takes regular medications for her cholesterol and high blood pressure.
months’ time, NYP’s teaching staff comprising a nutritionist and a dietician will give her recommendations on how to further improve on her nutritional intake as well as general state of health. “Of course I don’t mind taking in their recommendations! Even though I’ve attended health talks previously, sometimes I will forget some of these advice. So I think this programme might be helpful for me, as I will be given recommendations on how to eat better through a one-to-one consultation.
“During the event, they also had a cooking demonstration by students where they taught us to use healthy ingredients in our food such as carrots and black fungus. The food was very tasty and I can’t wait to replicate these dishes myself!” she said.
Besides partnering with the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Active Ageing Committee and working with the residents through the Centre, there are plans to reach out to more seniors in other communities. Dr Loke shared: “As the Centre continues with this study, and findings about senior nutrition becomes clearer, we will continue to have different approaches to reach out to the seniors such as sharing the results on public platforms with support from the media, and bringing the results and dietary advice to the seniors through a one-to-one basis and hope that they can share these with their friends and families.
“We will also continue to work with grassroots organisations to reach out to the seniors in the community.”