- The majority of people over the age of 50 are overweight,
unhealthy and do not take enough exercise, a survey has found.
- Further concern is generated by the fact that Britain's
elderly couch potatoes seem unaware that they could be putting their lives
at risk. Seventy eight per cent of them even claim to be active for their
age. In fact, they are running the risk of losing their mobility and becoming
a burden on their relatives and the state.
- The research was carried out for the Nestlé Family
Monitor, a series of studies into family life in Britain. The survey showed
that 74 per cent of people aged over 50 never played sport, and 63 per
cent never exercised. Many did nothing more strenuous than walking to the
shops once or twice a week.
- As a result, more than half of people aged over 50 were
overweight, including 16 per cent who were obese. Dr Stan Grant, a lecturer
in physiology and sport science at Glasgow University, said that the results
were "very disappointing". His own research shows that it is
not too late for an improvement in health, even if a person is 89 years
- Dr Grant said: "We need to hit the notion that you
can be too old to take exercise. The over-50s should still be exercising.
Otherwise there is a spiral downwards. As they become less capable of doing
something about their health they want to do it less, because it is more
of a strain on their system.
- "Eventually they don't even have the strength to
go to the bathroom by themselves and they lose their independence."
Older people also appear to be picky eaters, according to the Nestlé
findings. Nearly half had experienced loss of appetite and enjoyed food
less than when they were younger.
- Although broadly aware of what was nutritional, 73 per
cent said they would never eat something they disliked just because it
was good for them. Tea, soup and biscuits were the staples in the diet
of many elderly people, although most recognised that bread, pasta and
fresh vegetables were better for them.
- Most of the elderly people questioned said they suffered
from health problems. One third were troubled by arthritis or rheumatism,
a quarter had high blood pressure and one fifth had difficulty sleeping.
Health problems were acute in those who were obese. Forty per cent of those
who were very overweight suffered from high blood pressure, compared to
19 per cent with an appropriate weight.
- Some 26 per cent had failing eyesight, compared to 10
per cent of their fitter friends. Eleven per cent of obese people had diabetes,
compared to one per cent of those whose weight was in proportion to their
height and build. The survey also discovered that obese people were 10
times more likely to play cards and board games, probably because many
were virtually housebound.
- Only 16 per cent of obese people aged over 50 went outside
the house every day. Prof David Richardson, Nestlé UK's head of
nutrition, science and communication, said: "Getting key messages
about healthy eating and active lifestyles across to the over-50s is a
pressing priority in an ageing population, where increasing numbers of
middle-aged people will be caring for elderly dependents.
- "All the scientific evidence points to the importance
of nutrition in maintaining health and reducing the risk of disease. The
challenge is not only to attain a longer life but to maintain optimal health
throughout their lifetime."
- Exactly how to get the message across is unclear, with
31 per cent of people aged over 50 claiming they have "no access"
to nutritional information. Tessa Harding, the head of policy at Help The
Aged, said that older people on low incomes needed to be offered more opportunities
to stay active and involved in their communities.
- But Dr Grant believes that more radical action is needed,
perhaps by featuring positive health messages in television soap operas.
He said: "If you introduced a plot in Coronation Street that the characters
were to take more exercise, that would help to change people's concepts.".
- The charity Age Concern produces a fact sheet entitled
Fitness for Later Life, available by calling freephone 0800 009966. MORI
interviewed a nationally representative sample of 543 adults in April this
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