A ground-breaking study has found that increasing dairy consumption in older people can drastically improve their health. It is long understood that dairy foods are one of the best sources of calcium and that calcium is important for our bones. However, new research from Australia has shown that the benefits also extend to the economy and the fracture prevention potential from increasing dairy intake is estimated to equate to over €39 million savings in health spend there.
In Ireland, it is estimated that over 300,000 people suffer from osteoporosis, with an estimated 30,000 fractures a year. Fractures account for 2% of the overall health costs here, which is estimated to be €400 million per year.
The study will be discussed today at a major Nutrition conference, the ESPEN Congress 2023 – in Lyon on 13th September, with an Expert Panel “Fighting fractures and falls with food: from science to practice”
The Australian study (1) began with a simple dietary intervention, whereby 7000 residents across 30 residential care homes were given an increase in the amount of dairy they consume each day. It found that residents who consumed 3.5 servings of dairy per day, was associated with a 46% reduced risk for hip fractures, 33% for all fractures and 11% for falls, following the 2-year study. The authors of the study attributed the findings to the additional calcium and high-quality protein found in dairy foods. They then calculated the cost-saving potential if the dietary changes were to be rolled out nationwide.
“What the study shows is that when older adults almost double their intake of dairy products they maintain weight, bone density and nutritional status,” says Dr Sandra Iuliano, a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Medicine, at the University of Melbourne, who led the study. “What we’ve done is slow the decline of bone and muscle by changing the diet of older adults, despite the fact that they’re losing muscle naturally because they’re old.”
In addition, the Department of Health in Ireland (3) released new dietary guidelines in June, which advise older people to consume 3-4 servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day, a recommendation which mirrors the amount of dairy consumed in the Australian study. However, previous Irish research show that only 3.5% of those over 60 years had a daily dairy intake of three or more servings per day.
Professor Frances Dockery, Consultant Physician & Geriatrician at Beaumont Hospital and Joint Clinical Lead for the Fracture Liaison Services database in Ireland said “In the Irish context, if the same scientific model was applied this could equate to significant savings relating to the economic burden of fractures, not to mention the impact on quality of life for older people through avoidance of a painful, debilitating fracture. It is estimated that around 30% of patients with hip fracture die within a year of their injury and most of those who survive do not recover their baseline independence and function. Interestingly, the cost of intervention in this research study was just 70 cent (Euro 0.7) per resident, per day. It is therefore a cost- effective intervention with significant benefits which could be easily adopted across residential settings in Ireland”.
1. – Luliano S et al. BMJ 2021;375:n2364 https://www.bmj.com/content/375/bmj.n2364#:~:text=This%20nutritional%20approach%20using%20high,reduction%20in%20risk%20of%20falls
2. – Baek Y et al. Age Ageing 2023;52(6);afad114 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37389558/
3. Healthy Ireland. Healthy Eating for Older Adults 2023 https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/9791c-healthy-eating-for-older-adults/
Notes to Editors
The National Dairy Council has a number useful booklets on nutrition for older people, including a new booklet specifically for over 65s and a booklet on Bone, Muscle and Joint Health – please visit https://ndc.ie/our-publications/.
About the National Dairy Council
The National Dairy Council (NDC) champions the role of quality pasture-based dairy and its nutrition benefits in supporting healthier, more active living. The private farmer-funded marketing agency works to promote and protect Ireland’s dairy reputation at home and abroad and believes in a future in which Irish dairy is recognized and trusted as a vital part of people’s diet and general health across the life stages, indispensable to Ireland’s social and economic wellbeing.