Elderly skipping meals, raising experts’ concern

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Elderly skipping meals, raising experts’ concern

One out of 10 Korean women over the age of 65 skips at least one meal a day, according to a recently released study.

The findings have stirred up concerns tied to malnutrition among the elderly and shine the spotlight on the challenges seniors face in Korean society.

“If you are alone,” said one expert, “it becomes cumbersome to prepare, make and eat food.”

Joung Hyo-jee, a professor at the Graduate School of Public Health at Seoul National University, presented the results of the survey earlier this month. “A public health and nutrition analysis shows that 7 percent of Korean women over 65 skip their lunch, which is nearly twice as often as men of the same age group,” Joung said.

The findings were presented at the Symposium of Public Health & Nutrition held at the Grand Hilton Seoul. The survey questioned 1,722 women and 1,092 men.

Health issues were cited as one cause of eating less often, according to professor Roh Yong-kyun of the Hallym University Medical Center. “Since most of the old already suffer from chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes, these conditions leave some of them with a loss of appetite. On top of that, emotional factors such as depression play a role in decreasing their appetite,” he said.

The survey showed that 5 percent of older Korean women go without breakfast and 3.9 percent go without dinner, which - when combined with those who skip lunch -translates to 15.9 percent of women in this age group having meals two times or less per day. The figure for men, in contrast, is 9.3 percent.

Choi Young-sun, president of the Korean Nutrition Society, said the discrepancy between men and women stems in part from the fact that women typically outlive men, meaning they often have to live alone for long periods of time. Preparing meals, therefore, becomes more difficult as they age.

Experts warn of negative health consequences tied to this phenomenon. “Taking meals irregularly makes the elderly far unhealthier than the young since the ability to digest and absorb nutrition decreases with age,” Choi said. “It’s sad there’s a lack of social concern over the issue.”

The elderly are encouraged to drink a glass of milk a day, but the survey showed that 87 percent of older people do not drink even a single glass of milk every two days. In addition, 65.3 percent of seniors do not consume the recommended levels of fruit. Choi Jae-kyung, a professor of family medicine at Konkuk University Hospital, said, “If the elderly lack protein and calcium, they face troubles in their daily lives.”

In general, said Roh of Hallym University, “Many old people live by themselves as our society increasingly sees more nuclear families.”

By Park Tae-kyun [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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