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Call it a silent killer in a land of plenty

Poor nutrition is putting the lives of many Canadian seniors at risk, according to a new research report. Analysis of results from the 2008–2009 Canadian Community Health Survey – Healthy Aging indicates that close to 1 million Canadian seniors are at nutritional risk. Seniors at nutritional risk who participated in the survey were 60% more likely to die during the survey’s follow-up period and 20% more likely to be admitted to hospital than seniors not at risk.

The report, co-authored by Pamela Ramage-Morin, Heather Gilmour and Michelle Rotermann for Statistics Canada, states that nutritional risk can be caused by many factors. Chronic conditions and medication use can affect appetite, and mobility challenges can interfere with a senior’s ability to purchase or prepare healthy food. Not eating sufficient amounts or not consuming foods that provide adequate nutrition can lead to malnutrition and frailty.

The authors state: “A paradox of aging is that caloric needs decrease, but the need for a nutritious diet does not. It is important to identify the people most likely to be at risk of nutritional depletion, who, without intervention, may become malnourished, frail, and susceptible to negative health outcomes including functional limitations, poor quality of life, longer hospital stays and re-admissions, and earlier death.”

Women are at greater risk than men, with 37% of female seniors affected versus 29% of male seniors. Seniors aged 75 years or older are more likely to be at nutritional risk than those 65–74 years of age.

The survey represents the first large population sample to examine nutritional risk. Almost 31,000 people from across the country participated in the survey.

The report is contained in the September 2017 online issue of Statistics Canada’s Health Reports, available at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2017009/article/54856-eng.htm.