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Whitepaper: Fuelling Longer Active Lives
The answer to this question is becoming increasingly important as global society faces an ageing population.
According to the World Population Prospects, 16 per cent of the globe’s population will be aged 65 or above by 2050¹. In Europe and North America, two regions with lower birth rates, this figure rises to 25 per cent of the population by 2050. All countries face major challenges to ensure that their healthcare and social systems are ready to meet this demographic shift².
With longer life expectancy becoming the norm, we understand older consumers want to maintain an active, healthy life for as long as possible, and consumers across all ages are taking proactive steps to achieve this goal.
Defined as the ability to move freely and easily, mobility is one of the core components of an active life in later years and it has a significant impact on quality of life as we age.
This issue is widely acknowledged by the ageing population with 75 per cent of people over 60 saying that mobility problems have a moderate to severe impact on their health3. For example, impaired mobility increases the incidence of falling, and each fall can accelerate the pace of ageing through a gradual loss of independence.
Mobility involves a holistic interaction of flexibility, posture, balance, stamina, and strength, which is built on a foundation of healthy bones, joints, muscles, and energy. We can illustrate the complex nature of mobility via the ‘Mobility Wheel’ below.
The intrinsic relationship between each component shown on the wheel means that the deterioration of one will affect the others, slowing the wheel’s momentum. When the mobility wheel stops turning, loss of independence is close behind and quality-of-life will be impacted.
Each component of the wheel plays an important role in maintaining mobility as we age, and each one is interconnected. Take the example of bone and muscle health.
Without intervention, loss of muscle mass starts as early as the age of 30, with a modest 3-5% loss per decade but increasing with older age4 .
This is due to reduced muscle synthesis in combination with elevated muscle breakdown that occurs with age. Our bones, for most of our life, keep up a steady balance of resorption and formation of bone – known as bone remodelling. However, as we age, bone breakdown starts to outpace bone formation, which can lead to a loss in bone density5,6.
The combination of diminishing bone density and accelerated loss of muscle mass can have a compound impact on mobility, and ultimately affect quality of life. This is why it is important to make lifestyle choices that support mobility maintenance as we age.
The mobility wheel starts turning when we are born and needs to be kept in motion throughout our life. Building a strong base in key mobility markers is an important step to maintain lifelong mobility and delay the natural decline which happens with age.
Once noticeable mobility decline starts, it can be hard to stop and impossible to reverse past a certain age.
With that in mind, it is critical to build strong foundations for mobility in our early years. A prime example of this is bone strength and density. Up to 90% of our bone mass is developed in the period from childhood through to our early adult years, making this the optimal time to strengthen bone health.7
Overlooking bone health during this period can have an exponential impact later in life.
Research shows a 10% increase in peak bone mass during childhood can lead to a 50% reduced risk of an osteoporotic fracture later in life8.
Muscle mass and strength, unlike bone density, can be built beyond adolescence and into our middle age. The lifestyle we choose can drastically improve our muscle health outcomes, as shown by the graph below. Even though muscle mass and strength will naturally diminish with ageing, the difference later in life can be influenced through a combination of physical activity and high protein nutrition.
That’s why many countries have served milk in schools for decades, including Fonterra's Milk for Schools programme in New Zealand which started in 2012, and why many children are encouraged to consume milk and dairy products when they are young. Health organisations around the world recognise that dairy products are rich in essential nutrients that support strong bone development over those crucial early years. However, once we leave school, and enter adulthood, we should still keep a diet rich in mobility supporting components. This is because despite foundations being built in youth, longer term mobility success can be still influenced throughout our lifetime.
An optimal diet for lifelong mobility is high in protein, rich in calcium, and incorporates both Vitamin D and B Vitamins to support bone, joint and muscle health as well as energy production.
Dairy is an effective source of mobility-supporting ingredients, rich in high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins, which all play an important role in healthy, active ageing.
Dairy protein is known to contribute to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass, through the combination of high bioavailability and high levels of essential amino acids (especially branched chain amino acids) which stimulates new muscle formation. In addition to its muscle health benefits, dairy protein provides the amino acids needed for collagen synthesis which supports joint health. Adequate protein intake has been shown to be positively associated with bone mineral density and improved bone resilience. Some dairy proteins such as MPC (milk protein concentrate) or calcium caseinate can be suitable ingredients because they are a source of both protein and mineral (calcium and phosphorus) components.
It is also important to note that consumers widely recognise protein as a hero nutrient with 56 per cent of people choosing to consume protein for the purpose of supporting healthy ageing9.
For strong bones, there is no ingredient more widely recognised than calcium.
76 percent of consumers surveyed believe calcium has benefits on bone and joint health10.
It’s one of the main bone-forming minerals, and the body stores 99 per cent of its calcium in bone. When calcium intake is inadequate, one might experience a loss in bone mass as the body tries to maintain calcium levels to support vital functions. It has been shown that adequate dietary calcium intake maximises peak bone mass early in life and prevents bone loss later in life11. Milk products specifically are widely known for being a good source of calcium, essential for bone development and maintenance.
Vitamin D is critical to maintaining healthy bones and contributes to normal muscle function. In addition, this vitamin also plays a role in the absorption and utilisation of calcium by the body.
Bones are in a constant state of remodelling, and low levels of vitamin D can result in progressive bone mineral loss over time.
When there is adequate vitamin D, up to 40 per cent of dietary calcium is absorbed by the gut compared to only 10-15 per cent at insufficient levels12.
Vitamin C is also part of the joint health puzzle, working closely with amino acids (proteins’ building blocks) for collagen synthesis which is an essential component of connective tissues for healthy joints. New evidence has also highlighted Vitamin C’s potential to increase bone healing after fractures and increase collagen synthesis which is important as collagen fibres are also a key component of the bone structure13.
For energy and vitality, the body turns to a variety of B vitamins, which help turn the food we eat into cellular energy.
In particular, B vitamins are essential for the functioning of mitochondria which are the energy powerhousesof our cells.
A deficiency in just one B vitamin can cause a disruption to the biochemical process of converting nutrients into energy in our cells. Milk and dairy products provide a good dietary source of water-soluble B vitamins, particularly vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B12 (cobalamin).
Consumers also recognise the importance of B Vitamins for energy with 33% of those surveyed stating they actively choose products with Vitamin B ingredients for energy purposes14.
The impact of reduced mobility as we age is clear to consumers, and whilst most of the impact may not be fully felt until later in life, consumers across all adult age groups (16+) are waking up to mobility as a key health concern. As a result, we see a growing trend towards a more proactive approach to life-long health, built on long-term lifestyle choices that will improve mobility outcomes and maintain longer active lives.
There is a clear unresolved need for products formulated to address wider mobility concerns in the ageing population. When asked if they found the claim "aids with reduced mobility” in food and beverages appealing consumers in the United States, United Kingdom and China agreed at rates of 47%, 51% and 38% respectively15.
The opportunity for dairy is clear. We know that consumers recognise the connection between dairy ingredients and multiple mobility factors and claims.
We also know that the main attribute consumers pay attention to when making purchasing decisions for health products is the ingredient list, over and above front of pack claims16.
As a result, we think dairy ingredients have a key role to play as an established source of nutrients that support mobility components, such as protein for muscle strength, calcium for bone health and vitamins for energy.
As brands around the world set out to address the challenges of the ageing population, they should be seeking research-backed, holistic solutions that will help consumers take control of their mobility from young adulthood and maintain this as they age. It is clear that mobility is not just a senior population concern, and that like many healthy ageing factors, true success comes from early attention and lifelong habits.
Global Lead Nutritionist, Advanced Nutritionist - Fonterra
Jacqueline is a nutrition professional with strong affinity for communication and innovation. Joining Fonterra in 2018, she brings over 19 years’ experience in the global food and beverage industry along with a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and a minor in Marketing and Consumer Science from Wageningen University & Research.
As a Global Lead Nutritionist for Advanced Nutrition, she is responsible for providing nutritional knowledge and oversight, as well as supporting the research and development of innovative nutritional solutions that meet consumer needs in the health, wellbeing, and medical space.