Survey finds loneliness is a key factor in over-70s not eating a hot meal every day

loneliness and mental health

Almost a quarter – 23% – of the people aged 70 or older surveyed online don’t always eat a hot meal daily

24th November 2015 – New research published today outlines a number of worrying trends in eating habits amongst elderly people, in an online survey of UK adults aged 70 years or more. The survey, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Wiltshire Farm Foods, the UK’s leading frozen meals delivery service, found that almost a quarter – 23% – of the people aged 70 or older surveyed online don’t always eat a hot meal daily, and almost one in ten (9%) of those surveyed eat just one hot or cold meal a day, with or without snacks.

As winter and the cold weather approaches, it’s essential that older people are eating regular hot meals. Malnutrition is a serious problem amongst the elderly population in the UK, affecting more than one million people aged over 65[1]. The survey’s results highlight some of the eating habits that can contribute to an older person becoming malnourished.

Key findings from the survey include:

· For 19%, almost one-fifth, of those surveyed who don’t eat a hot meal every day, this was down to the ‘loneliness factor’: they either said there is no point cooking a hot meal for one person, or that they sometimes eat alone and prefer eating hot meals with others
· For another 9% of those surveyed who don’t eat a hot meal every day, this is because of practical obstacles: they either find it too difficult to cook for themselves, or don’t have anyone to help them cook
· 46% of those who don’t eat a hot meal every day have gone a few days without a hot meal in the last year, whilst a small but shocking proportion – 4% – have gone a fortnight or longer without a hot meal in the last 12 months
· Over half the survey’s respondents (53%) say their portion sizes are smaller today than when they were in their forties. 36% of these say their portion sizes have halved, and 5% are eating portions just a quarter of the size they used to.
· 63% of respondents do not usually meet the government’s ‘5 A Day’ target for fruit and vegetable consumption

Lee Sheppard, Director of Public Policy and External Affairs, apetito and Wiltshire Farm Foods, commented: “Almost one in two of those surveyed who don’t eat a hot meal every day confirmed that they have ‘gone a few days without a hot meal’ in the last year. This is a worrying statistic: it is vitally important to maintain your intake of calories and nutrients as you get older, yet over one-third of our survey’s respondents report eating only half of what they did in their forties. At the same time, just 2% of respondents in our survey believe they may be underweight. It’s crucial that we dispel the myth that it is normal to lose weight as you get older; eating too little can easily lead to malnutrition, which impacts one in ten over-65s in the UK today.[2]”

He continued: “Social factors significantly contribute to the risk of malnutrition amongst the elderly. The survey identifies loneliness as a key factor, with some believing there is no point cooking for one person, and others finding it too difficult to prepare meals. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents who don’t always prepare meals themselves said their partner prepares meals for them, highlighting how the loss of a loved one, for example, can suddenly make eating well a real problem.”

Lesley Carter, Programme Manager at the Malnutrition Task Force said:
“By not regularly eating hot meals, many older people are being put at risk of malnutrition which could easily be prevented. With figures showing us 1 in 10 older people are suffering from or at risk of malnutrition, it’s so important to raise awareness of malnutrition
amongst older people, their carers and professionals.”

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