New centre in Singapore to conduct Asia's largest study on undernutrition among the elderly

File photo of an elderly man having his meal at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre.
File photo of an elderly man having his meal at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Undernutrition in the elderly is a worldwide problem, but most of the available data is based on Western research, say experts.

A new study in Singapore aims to gather more data on Asians, given the differences in body types and habits between Westerners and Asians.

A new centre that was launched on Thursday (Aug 31) will manage the study. 

The Nutritional Health for the Elderly Reference Centre, launched at Changi General Hospital (CGH), has been set up to study nutrition issues facing elderly people in Asia.

The centre says the study on undernutrition is the largest in Asia to look at the problem among seniors who live at home.

About a third of live-at-home elderly people who are hospitalised are undernourished, said CGH adjunct assistant professor Samuel Chew.

Recruitment of 1,200 participants aged at least 65 started on Thursday.

CGH will select 600 people for the study and SingHealth Polyclinics will select the other half.

The new centre is a partnership between CGH and Abbott, a global healthcare firm. It is supported by the Economic Development Board.

Dr Low Yen Ling, director of research and development at the Abbott Nutrition Asia Pacific Centre, said: “In Asia’s fast-ageing population today, nutrition plays a vital role in improving the health of the elderly.” 

She added: “It’s very important we generate Asia-specific data.”

She gave an example of how Western and Asian diets differ: Asians tend to eat more carbohydrates, such as porridge, as they get older, while Westerners have a more protein-rich diet.

Dr Low said that key to achieving nutrition goals for the elderly here is understanding how they eat, what they think about nutrition and what happens when their diet is modified with items such as supplements.

Some of the tests participants of the study will undergo include blood tests to measure the amount of vital minerals, for example. They will also perform physical exercises, such as squeezing a tool, to measure strength.

The study is slated to be completed by May 2019.