Millions of people aged over 60-years-old in the UK have an unhealthier diet than ever – simply because their kids have left home, according to a poll study by Seven Seas, a major supplier of vitamins, minerals and supplements in the UK, presenting plentiful opportunities for the fresh produce industry to access untapped sales among this underachieving age group, especially for nutritious snacks and small meals
After years of eating a healthy, balanced diet to cater for their children, pensioners are then turning to ready meals and snacks to get them through the day. Six in 10 admit to skipping breakfast at least once a week while almost eight in 10 experience one day a week where they don’t eat lunch.
Some 62% of the 2,000 people aged over 60 who took part in the poll also admitted to regularly ditching a full meal in favour of a piece of toast, a packet of crisps or even just a cup of tea or coffee. And almost one in 10 never sit down to a home-cooked meal, with one in 20 only making an effort to cook something when they have visitors.
No longer needing to worry about what their children eat was among the top reasons for letting their diet slip, along with health issues, not feeling as hungry as they used to and living alone.
“Sadly, this research doesn’t surprise me,” says Seven Seas’ consultant dietician Helen Bond. “For years we worry about the meals we serve up for our children, and setting them a good example. But when the children have left, it seems there are many who struggle to keep their healthy diets going after their offspring have flown the nest.
“The over 60s need to make sure they are eating a healthy balanced diet; skipping meals can mean missing out on essential nutrients including vitamin D and omega-3s, both of which are vital for maintaining good health. It’s these nutrients that help to replenish our natural resources as we age and may help to protect us from various health issues.
“Worryingly, a large number of over 60s are skipping meals altogether, with breakfast – the most important meal of the day – the most common meal to drop,” Bond continues. “You don’t always need to have a large home-cooked meal, but it’s important to make sure you get three balanced and varied meals a day to help keep you fit and healthy and living well into old age.”
The study found 43% of over-60s admit their diet isn’t always that healthy, with 12% going as far as to say their diet is worse now than it was in the past. One in 10 admit they regularly over-eat, while more than one in 20 goes to the other extreme and says they tend to under-eat.
It also emerged that the average over-60 person skips two breakfasts, two lunches and one evening meal each week. On top of that, they also replace one breakfast, two lunches and one dinner with a simple snack instead.
Not being hungry in the mornings is the most common reason for not having a hearty breakfast, along with being happy to settle for a cup of tea or coffee or struggling to get going first thing.
When it comes to skipping lunch or dinner, a third do so because they simply aren’t always hungry, while 31% say it’s easier to grab a snack instead. A quarter claims to be too busy to fix something substantial while one in 10 find it difficult as they live alone and only have to cook for themselves.
The majority, however (48%) of over-60s admit that their children flying the nest and leaving home is one of the reasons why they no longer put so much effort into eating a healthy diet at all times. Another one in 10 say they are too tired to spend lots of time cooking.
With nutrient-rich fresh and dried fruits and vegetables fitting comfortably in the burgeoning healthy snacking category, the fresh produce industry could be ignoring a great opportunity when it comes to garnering new sales and developing products that can both suit and benefit the older generations too.