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Poor diet quality ups frailty risk in seniors

19 Jul 2019
Elderly thinking becoming frail and slow is 'normal'

Poor overall diet quality, particularly low intake of vegetable protein, appears to put elderly adults at greater risk of frailty, a recent study has found.

Using food frequency questionnaires, researchers assessed dietary intake in 2,154 elderly adults (mean age, 74.5±2.8 years; 51.5 percent female). Diet quality was assessed according to the Healthy Eating Index, while energy and protein intake levels were also evaluated. Fried’s five-component frailty phenotype was used to measure frailty status.

At baseline, mean body mass index was 27.2±4.6 kg/m2. Majority (72.9 percent) had medium-quality diet, while 6.5 percent had poor diets. Protein intake <0.8 g/kg of adjusted body weight was reported in 26.5 percent. Weakness, slowness and physical inactivity were present in 26.2 percent, 18.2 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively.

Over a mean follow-up of 3.5 years, there were 277 incident cases of frailty. Cox proportional hazards analysis fully adjusted for confounder showed that having a poor overall diet quality led to a significant 92-percent increase in the risk of developing frailty (hazard ratio [HR], 1.92, 95 percent CI, 1.17–3.17; p<0.05).

A similar effect was observed for medium-quality diets, though significance was not achieved (HR, 1.40, 0.99–1.98).

Notably, restricting the analysis to those who were robust at baseline (n=1,020), a 10-g per day decline in vegetable protein intake led to a significant, 20-percent increase in the risk of developing frailty or prefrailty in 4 years (HR, 1.20, 1.04–1.39; p<0.05). No such effect was reported for total or animal protein intake.

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