Clearly, as we grow older, we eat less as our activity and physiologic regimes slowdown. Yet, we need more of certain nutrients, especially micro-nutrients as our immune status tends to be compromised and our cells degenerate much faster; in other words, we are not growing anymore. Those special micro-nutrients are provided by fruits and vegetables, foods that older people in Africa find a hard time consuming. Elsewhere, nutrient supplements play a critical role where diet does not fulfill the elders’ needs. But supplements have little guidance in Africa and are also not affordable. So let us remember that the elderly eat less and less as time goes on, but whatever they eat needs to be micro-nutrient dense to sustain their health and immunity.
Understandably, we have tended to concentrate more on young children, expectant mothers and women of reproductive age, as the most vulnerable to be prioritized in service delivery. This makes sense as many African children are at the risk of dying before they attain their 5th birthday. Mothers may have miscarriage and the fetus dies, or premature delivery and the baby dies or is off on a risky start, or either or both mother and baby die during childbirth. I must say the whole episode of childbirth is just a miracle. This attention on early life is warranted, given how so vulnerable this whole stage is; anything could go wrong. No wonder then that we judge a nation’s level of prosperity on its maternal and infant mortality rates. Once people enter adulthood, it is assumed they have made it. To a large extent that is true. But here come non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Research has shown that how we fare in childhood determines how we shall fare in adulthood. If we are careless with our health and eating practices in childhood, we predispose ourselves to all kinds of ailments in adulthood. Early consumption of too much sugar, salt or fat, predisposes us to high blood pressure, cardiac morbidity, and cancer later on in life. I believe it is not just a question of lifespan or how long we live, but more importantly the quality of that life. In this issue 85, we have a paper by Burani and Longo highlighting the plight of old citizens who live on their own. They are on their own, away from family because when refugees were meant to leave Tanzania and go back to their original homes, these particular older citizens had no family left to take them along; so, they stayed behind. They conclude that the isolated elderly remain at the risk of under nutrition. They are vulnerable and need care. If the humanitarian group did not step in, one wonders how these old people would survive. We also have a paper by Saha and others on the Elderly in a South African township. They conclude thus: “Food insecurity is a concern for the older adults. Although fruit and vegetables were available from street vendors, the dietary diversity of older adults showed low reported consumption of fruit and vegetables.
Low fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with hidden hunger and incidence of chronic diseases. Nutrition education has the potential to encourage the older adults to consume a variety of foods and lead a healthy life (Sahyoun_et al._, 2004) . It is thus recommended that a nutrition education program be implemented in this older adult community to enable them to make informed healthy food choices that are affordable. It is also necessary to mitigate the food access barrier, namely the low household income for the older adults. Furthermore, owners of the local community shops should also be educated on the importance of healthy eating and having healthy food choices available at affordable prices for the community”. To prosper and feel good about ourselves as a people, we need to be inclusive and to ensure no one feels left out, and that each and every world citizen has access to basic necessities in life, regardless of their age.