New study connects diet to better quality of life for seniors

In a comprehensive study concerning seniors and diet conducted by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland and published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer were revealed to be the leading cause of death among the group, and often preventable by dietary choices.

Over a ten-year period, researchers followed the dietary habits of 2,500 adults ages 70 to 79, noticing a strong correlation between diet and frequency of chronic diseases. Study participants were categorized into six groups: Healthy Foods, High-fat Dairy Products, Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol, Breakfast Cereal, Refined Grains and Sweets and Desserts.

Not surprisingly, members of the High-fat Dairy group demonstrated a 40 percent higher risk of death than those in the Healthy Foods group, Breakfast Cereal and Refined Grains; and the Sweets and Desserts group were also at a significant risk for death at 37 percent higher than the healthier groups.

Deaths during the course of the ten-year study include:

  • 109 (34 percent) died out of 322 people in the High-fat Dairy group
  • 104 (32 percent) died out of 339 people in the Sweets and Desserts group
  • Only 77 (21 percent) of the 374 people in the Healthy Foods group died

Consistent throughout the study, results led researchers to conclude that older adults who consume a well-balanced diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains have a lower risk of mortality than those consuming large amounts of refined and processed carbohydrates, high-fat dairy and animal products.

The research also correlated “quality of life” along with diet, and found strong links between healthier diet and reports of better quality of life. Those people in the Healthy Food group were less likely to be smokers and more likely to be physically active as well, which added to their lower mortality rates.

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Photo: Theilr courtesy of Creative Commons