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J Nutr Health Aging. 2014 Mar;18(3):234-42. doi: 10.1007/s12603-013-0387-y.

Eating and aging: trends in dietary intake among older Americans from 1977-2010.

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  • 1Barry M. Popkin, PhD, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, CB: 8120, University Square, 123 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-3997, Phone: 919-966-1732, Fax: 919-966-9159/6638, E-mail:



We examined trends from 1977-2010 in calorie, macronutrient, and food group intake among US adults 55 and older.


Cross-sectional time series.


A nationally representative sample of the US non-institutionalized population.


Older Americans aged ≥55 years (n=18,603) from four surveys of dietary intake in 1977-1978, 1989-1991, 1994-1996, and 2005-2010.


Dietary intake was assessed using one 24-hour recall. Multivariable linear regression models were used to determine adjusted per capita mean energy and macronutrient intake for each survey year. Interactions were used to examine differences by race/ethnicity, gender, and generation. The top five food group contributors to total calorie intake were identified for each year.


Mean total calorie intake increased significantly among older Americans from 1977-2010. Increases in carbohydrate intake (43% to 49% of total calories) were coupled with decreases in total fat intake (from 40% to 34%) while saturated fat (11%) remained constant. Corresponding shifts in food group intake were observed, as red meat intake greatly declined while bread and grain desserts became dominant calorie sources. Calorie intake was significantly higher for whites compared to blacks from 1994-2010. Cohort analysis indicated a shift from decreasing caloric intake with age to relatively stable calorie intake despite increasing age in more recent cohorts.


Increases in total calorie intake from 1977-2010, coupled with the finding that more recent generations did not show the expected age-related decrease in caloric consumption, raise concerns about obesity risk among older Americans. Additionally, despite declines across time in total fat intake, saturated fat intake continues to exceed recommendations, and shifts toward increased consumption of grain-based desserts suggest that high discretionary calorie intake by older Americans might make it difficult to meet nutrient requirements while staying within energy needs.

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