An Appetite for Health: Americans Over 50 Strive for Heart and Muscle Health

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than two-thirds of older adults are managing more than one chronic disease. Despite this rising trend, adults today are tuning into their health and turning to nutrition to do so. A new study, conducted by the International Food Information Council and supported by Abbott, found that heart and muscle health were the top two health topics that adults over 50 years old are paying attention to – at 80 and 75 percent respectively. Brain health and having enough energy were equally important health topics for adults at 74 percent.

Appetite for Health Graph

The survey asked more than 1,000 adults over 50 years old how they make decisions on their eating habits, if they understand their dietary needs and what is motivating them to make positive changes. While people in general tend to think of food in relation to weight management or weight loss, the survey reveals that adult eating habits and health priorities may change with age.

Changing Food Habits for Better Health

The vast majority of adults are making at least some effort to eat the right amount of certain nutrients and food groups, and roughly 6 in 10 adults said they had better diet and lifestyle behaviors compared to their habits 20 years ago.

In fact, the data found that:

  • Nearly as many (86%) are making an effort to replace less-healthy foods and beverages with more nutrient-dense options
  • 87 percent were trying to eat the right amount and variety of protein
  • The same number reported trying to eat the right amount and variety of vegetables

“The IFIC Foundation survey shows that people are trying to get the right foods into their diet, but a recent study we did with The Ohio State University showed that more than 1 in 3 adults over 50 years old aren’t getting the recommended amount of protein each day,” said Abby Sauer, a registered dietitian at Abbott. “Good nutrition, with muscle-building nutrients like protein, is essential to help maintain your muscle health and live a healthy, active life at any age.”

Helping Adults Eat Healthy: Barriers and Facilitators

While many adults are making healthy food choices, the data reveals a lack of understanding about what foods can help achieve desired health outcomes. Nearly one-third (32%) couldn’t name a specific food or nutrient that they would avoid to help achieve their prioritized health outcome.

Similarly, over one-quarter of respondents (26%) cannot name a food or nutrient they would seek out to help with their most important health outcome. Vegetables top list of specific foods or components to seek out for all health topics (28%), with protein (18%) and fruit (17%), coming in second and third. Whole grains (5%), and dairy (3%) were less likely to be named as foods that adults seek out.

The survey also examined what factors make it easier to eat a healthy diet and what stands in the way. Knowledge (41%), accessibility (37%) and physical ability (32%) are the top three facilitators that make it easier to have a healthy diet. Conversely, cost (44%) and time (23%) were the top barriers cited by adults over 50 that made it harder to eat healthier.

“When we remove the barriers of cost and time, that doesn’t mean they will become facilitators of healthy eating,” said Lewin-Zwerdling. “The research shows that the facilitators of a healthier society require larger systemic changes– starting with more education and better access to the right nutrition across the country.”

An Eye Toward Keeping Their Independence

The vast majority of respondents (88%) agreed that it is never too late to make diet and lifestyle changes. Protecting long-term health was the top factor that motivated 1 in 5 adults over 50 to adopt healthy eating behaviors, especially for married respondents. Independence is another key motivator for many adults between 50 and 80 years old (79%), but surprisingly it does not become significantly more important over 70.

“As we age, our ideas about what makes us feel ‘old’ change. But too often our knowledge of how to improve our diets and health doesn’t keep up,” Lewin-Zwerdling said. “Our new research demonstrates how we can translate knowledge into positive change, suggesting that we need to think less about years, and more about our quality of life.”


The findings are derived from an online survey of 1,005 Americans ages 50 and older, conducted between Jan. 30 to Feb. 9, 2018. The results were weighted (by age, education, gender, race/ethnicity, and region) to ensure that they are reflective of the American population 50+, as seen in the Census Bureau’s 2017 Current Population Survey. The survey, which was supported by Abbott, was conducted by Greenwald & Associates using ResearchNow’s consumer panel.

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The mission of International Food Information Council Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is to effectively communicate science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. Visit