Nutrition among older adults in Africa: The situation at the beginning of the millenium
Most Africans enter old age after a lifetime of poverty and deprivation, poor access to health care and a diet that is usually inadequate in quantity and quality. However, nutrition interventions in African countries are directed primarily toward infants and young children, as well as pregnant and lactating women. This situational analysis focuses on two key areas to identify priorities for future research and policy development: the nutritional status of older Africans and determinants of undernutrition. Based on the scant evidence available, the prevalence of undernutrition is high in older African men (9.5-36.1%) and women (13.1-27%); however, in some urban areas there is evidence that older adults are experiencing the nutrition transition. Information on micronutrient status is sparse, yet it appears that anemia related to suboptimal folate status is a particular problem. Important determinants of poor nutritional status in the elderly in the African context include inadequate household food security, war and famine, and the indirect impact of HIV infection and AIDS. The rapidly increasing size of the older population, combined with their increased burden of care-giving responsibilities and severe socioeconomic hardship, indicates an urgent need for increased attention to this group, including applied research on nutrition problems and the development and evaluation of nutrition interventions.