Key Takeaways

  • There are a range of obesity treatment options available to help older adults reach a healthy weight and lower their health risks.

  • One important step you can take right now to manage your weight is to focus on eating nutritious, wholesome foods every day.

  • The new Dietary Guidelines offer sound nutritional guidance and tips that can help you shed pounds and prevent additional weight gain.

Over the last 20 years, the obesity rate in America has risen at an alarming rate. From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, its prevalence in adults grew from 30.5% to 42.4%, with severe obesity increasing from 4.7% to 9.2%.1

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extra weight can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. People with obesity are also at greater risk of complications and severe illness from COVID-19.

While these facts are concerning, there is good reason to be optimistic. As obesity gains broader acceptance as a serious health condition, new and advanced treatment options are becoming available to help adults reach a healthy weight and lower their health risks. These options include new bariatric surgery approaches as well as safe and effective anti-obesity medications.

Nutrition: An obesity intervention for older adults

We’re all individuals, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for addressing obesity. But no matter which path you take to manage your weight, living a healthy lifestyle is important for all of us. One positive lifestyle change you can make right now is to focus on following a healthy eating pattern.

There’s plenty of truth to the old saying: “You are what you eat.” Research has long shown that the foods we consume every day have a major impact on our health and wellness.

Eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet is critical across the lifespan, helping us feel our best and reduce our risk of chronic diseases.

Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have provided science-based advice on what we should eat and drink to meet our daily nutrient needs. These recommendations inform the government’s feeding programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Congregate Nutrition Services, often available at senior centers and other community-based organizations.

The U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recently released updated guidelines. For the first time, this recent edition focuses on practicing nutrition for healthy living at every stage—from infancy through older adulthood, or adults age 60 and older.

Nutrition as you age: Dietary Guidelines for older Americans

Older adults have special health considerations. According to the Dietary Guidelines, they have a greater risk of developing chronic diseases and are also vulnerable to age-related conditions like osteoporosis. Complicating matters is that a growing number of older Americans are starting this stage of their life carrying excess body weight.

Following the Dietary Guidelines can help you shed pounds and prevent additional weight gain.

Tips for eating healthy as an older adult

  • Pay attention to calories. In general, women age 60+ need about 1,600-2,200 calories per day, while men require about 2,000-2,600 calories per day.
  • Include more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy in your diet.
  • Limit your consumption of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Flavoring foods with herbs and spices can help you lower your intake of sugars, salt, and saturated fats.
  • Consume adequate protein to help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. Nutritious protein sources include seafood; dairy (including fortified soy alternatives); and beans, peas, and lentils.
  • Boost your vitamin B12 levels by eating B12-fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals. Your doctor may advise you to take a supplement. Other foods with high levels of B12 include sardines and tuna.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Other good beverage choices include unsweetened fruit or low sodium vegetable juice, low-fat (or fat-free) milk, or fortified soy beverages. Fluids can also be obtained from foods containing water, such as soup and fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit your intake of alcoholic drinks to no more than 2 per day if you’re a man and no more than 1 per day if you’re a woman.

It’s important to eat foods that fit your personal taste preference, culture, family traditions, budgetary considerations and individual medical conditions. Busy adults can subscribe to healthy meal delivery services or grocery delivery services to get nutritious meals and ingredients delivered to their doors. Sharing meals with friends and family will help increase food enjoyment and promote healthy eating.

Learning to eat smart for a healthy lifestyle

March is National Nutrition Month®, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has provided some helpful tips for developing healthy eating habits that can be used along with Dietary Guidelines recommendations. These include:

  • Avoid distractions while you’re eating (e.g. TV or cell phone).
  • Slow down and take the time to enjoy your food.
  • Learn how to read Nutrition Facts labels on food packaging.
  • Plan healthy eating while traveling and dining out.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new foods and flavors.

Reversing obesity in America won’t happen overnight, and there are a variety of treatment interventions that may be explored. However, whatever path you take good nutrition should always be an integral part of your journey. As emphasized in the new Dietary Guidelines, “it is never too early or too late to eat healthfully.”

Sources

1. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity among adults: United States, 2017–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no. 360. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2020.