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Risk of low nutritional status among Japanese elderly

Yu Taniguchi, Ph.D.

Former Researcher ( Social Participation and Community Health )

The National Health and Nutritional Survey reported that the rate of overweight is decreasing among Japanese women and that the trend is conspicuous among young women during the last decade. In this summary, I briefly describe associations of nutritional status with adverse health outcomes.

We attempted to identify nutritional biomarkers of risk of cognitive decline in a population of older Japanese 1. Among 873 cognitively intact adults aged 70 years or older at baseline, 682 (mean age 75.5 years; 59.7% women) were followed for up to 4 years. Cognition was assessed by Mini-Mental State Examination, and cognitive decline was defined as a decrease of at least three points on the test. Low red blood cell count, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and albumin were risk markers of subsequent cognitive decline. This prospective study revealed that three nutritional biomarkers were inversely associated with cognitive decline, even after adjustment for potential confounders.

In a prospective study of community-dwelling older Japanese, our colleagues examined whether several indicators of nutritional status were independently associated with life expectancy. In total, 1048 adults were followed for up to 8 years. We found that low body mass index, hemoglobin, total cholesterol, and albumin were independent predictors of survival rate, after adjustment for potential confounders.

Finally, using data from a 5-year longitudinal study (1992-1997), Kumagai and colleagues investigated the effects of dietary variety on decline in high-level functional capacity in community-dwelling elders. The participants were a representative sample comprising 608 adults aged 65 years or older at baseline. They found that greater dietary variety was associated with lower risk of higher-level functional decline 2.

In sum these findings indicate that, to avoid low nutritional status, older persons should be mindful of their dietary habits, and that markers such as body mass index, hemoglobin, cholesterol, and albumin are useful indicators of nutritional status.

1. Yu Taniguchi, et al. Nutritional Biomarkers and Subsequent Cognitive Decline Among Community-Dwelling Older Japanese: A Prospective Study. The Journals of Gerontology Medical Science 2014.
2. Shu Kumagai, et al. Effects of dietary variety on declines in high-level functional capacity in elderly people living in a community. Nihon Koshu Eisei Zasshi 2003.