By 2050, approximately one-third of the world’s population will be 50 years and older. Sixty two percent of the world population will be aged above 50+ in 2050 and will reside in Asia. The cohort of people growing old will be the fastest in the next coming decades making longevity the new norm. Longer lifespan makes it even more important to focus on healthy ageing. It will also drive innovation in consumer health, personal care, and nutrition.
As we celebrate the decade of healthy ageing it is important to understand what healthy ageing means. The WHO defines healthy ageing as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age. It is about creating the environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives.
For Danone healthy ageing is not about the elderly — it’s about prevention and maximisation. We believe that ageing is not a matter of age, it is a personal journey that is impacted by many social, environmental, and physical determinants.
Since we are living longer than our predecessors, it makes sense to pay attention to the whole process of aging which encompasses functional, emotional, social, and societal aspects of life. Our lifestyle dictates how a person will make a transition towards old age so corrective steps at the right time can ease this change making it seamless.
The new definition of health
Functional ability not the absence of disease has become the new metric to define health. As we age, there is a perceptible decline in our bodily functions like weakened eye vision and hearing. We also experience sarcopenia which is a reduction in muscle mass- an important determinant in our mobility. There is a reduction in our immunity and bone health which adds another layer of challenge to a good and healthy life. It is not only important to have a disease-free existence but also important to have health that allows us to lead an independent life.
Nutrition as a key lever to support active and healthy ageing, along with physical activity
Nutrition is the centerpiece in this entire process. A lot of NCDs like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes owe their genesis to faulty nutrition habits that plague our life. Non-communicable diseases will drive an aggregated reduction in global economic output amounting to $7 trillion between 2011 and 2030. This is according to a report issued by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Economic Forum.
A lot of research over a period has endeavored to demonstrate the connection of diet and its impact on our health over our lifetime. A diet which has adequate nutrition helps to cement one’s “health capital” helping to cushion the blow of infection and helping in recovery post-illness. A poor diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies which exacerbate the process of aging. For example, it is normal to consider muscle loss as a part of aging, but it is often due to lack of protein in diet which accelerates this condition. Good nutrition is the main factor that determines functional ability, enhances the quality of life, and enables healthy ageing.
Nutrition will add life to the years
Adequate nutrition and the social interactions that come with eating together are crucial for active and healthy ageing. Nutrition must be considered a critical component of whole-body health that helps to prevent non-communicable diseases and preserve functional ability. The Covid turmoil has shifted the focus: Immunity, resilience and nutrition has become the core of “health capital”. People are more cognizant of what it can offer.
Nutrition is a lifestyle choice and must be treated that way. Many of the conditions that we grapple with during the aging process can be prevented if the corrective course of action is taken in late thirties and early forties. A laser sharp focus on nutrition combined with physical and social activity provides a strong base for healthy and active ageing. The debate of public health in India needs to be reframed with health aging being kept in the fulcrum. The main areas of nutrition which are seeing a lot of interest is plant-based foods, functional foods, gut health, mental health and personalized nutrition. The food and nutraceutical industry should endeavor to be wellbeing partners for consumers at every stage of their lives.
(Himanshu Bakshi is the managing director of Danone India; views expressed in this column are author’s own)