Aging in Society: Selected Reviews of Recent Research

By Matilda White Riley; Beth B. Hess et al. | Go to book overview

10
Social Change and Food Habits of the Elderly1

Maradee A. Davis Elizabeth Randall University of Texas

To approach the topic of aging and nutrition is to confront a complexity of interrelationships. Foods are vehicles for nutrients that in turn function to provide all individuals, including the elderly, with the energy, vitality, and reserve necessary for active social, psychological, and physical performance. Yet inevitable life changes coinciding with the process of aging, such as altered social and family roles, death of spouse and friends, changes in living arrangements, curtailment of mobility, decreased income, and physiological changes, all influence the ability of the elderly to practice sound nutrition.

An understanding of the nutritional well-being of elderly people begins with their nutritional status at younger ages. There is evidence to suggest that nutritional status throughout the life course has implications for the development of specific diseases and disabilities associated with old age. Conversely, disease processes that are prevalent at older ages (such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, renal conditions, and dental problems) require alterations in usual food practices. There is also the possibility that nutritional status may affect the nature and rate of the physiological aging process per se and the concomitant potentials for social and psychological functioning.

This paper addresses the broad topic of the social aspects of aging and nutrition by focusing selectively on food habits and on the potential impact of current trends in family structure, social integration, and gender roles on the food habits of future cohorts of the elderly. Since decisions about food consumption are com

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1
The authors are grateful to Doris Howes Calloway for critically reading an earlier version of this paper.

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