Health Insights

Is malnutrition in older Australians a side-effect of loneliness?

40 per cent of older Australians are malnourished or at high risk of malnutrition.

Written by Rebecca Grant
It's the perfect time of year to enjoy a meal with your older friends and family.

According to Australia’s peak body for dietitians, Dietitians Association of Australia, 40 per cent of Australians over 65 years are either malnourished or at high risk of malnutrition.

Being undernourished can lead to a number of serious complications, including an increased risk of osteoporosis, an impaired immune system and poor wound healing.

Loneliness a risk factor in malnutrition

While the reasons behind malnutrition are varied, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and Accredited Practising Dietitian Joel Feren, said social isolation and loneliness are key risk factors.

"One of the major risk factors for under-nutrition in our older generation is social isolation and loneliness. We know from studies that when older people are living alone, their diet often suffers."

Mr Feren also said that elderly people often eat alone, and many lack the ability or motivation to prepare and cook balanced and nutritious meals.

"Some people call this the ‘tea and toast syndrome’. But the good news is that improving people’s social ties can lead to greater dietary variety and better health,” he said.

Loneliness hits Aussies hardest during the festive season

With recent Lifeline data finding 3 in 5 Australians are affected by loneliness, Medibank research has revealed the problem hits Aussies hardest during the festive season.

According to the Medibank research, three-quarters of Aussies believe Christmas can be the loneliest time of year for some, with nearly 1 in 2 saying they’ve been personally affected during the period.

Share a meal to provide comfort and connection—and boost physical health

While there are small things we can all do to help provide comfort and connection for those who are lonely— such as a call or visit—the Dietitians Association of Australia reminds us that Christmas is a great opportunity to share a meal with loved ones.

Spokesperson and Accredited Practising Dietitian Joel Feren said:

"Christmas can be a particularly lonely time. It’s a great opportunity to share a meal with an elderly friend, relative or community member and boost both their physical and mental wellbeing."

Find out how Medibank is helping to tackle loneliness amongst hospital patients.

Written by Rebecca Grant

Rebecca Grant is a Melbourne-based content producer and writer with an interest in health. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the communications and media world.

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