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close this bookEnergy and Protein requirements, Proceedings of an IDECG workshop, November 1994, London, UK, Supplement of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (International Dietary Energy Consultative Group - IDECG, 1994, 198 pages)
close this folderEnergy requirements of older individuals
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentMethodology for determination of total energy expenditure
View the documentTotal energy expenditure of older individuals
View the documentRelationship between total energy expenditure and physical activity
View the documentEffects of energy balance on nitrogen balance
View the documentSummary of energy requirements in older individuals and recommendations for future research
View the documentReferences
View the documentDiscussion


Definition and classification of 'older' individuals

During the discussion, several attempts were made to define what is meant by 'older' individuals or the 'elderly'. It was recognized that the use of descriptive terms like these can vary enormously from country to country and in different contexts, and that it is therefore preferable to specify the age range when describing such a population. It was further agreed that one could not make general recommendations for adults ranging in age from 60 or 65 to over 100 years, and that this whole range needed to be subdivided into narrower age bands.

The discussion on age ranges and age limits was, however, eclipsed by the realization that, in a discussion of energy and protein requirements, health and life style were of greater importance than age, and that, from that point of view, the elderly were an extremely heterogeneous group: on the one hand they are freed from the constraints imposed by a professional activity and can choose life styles implying widely varying physical activity levels; on the other hand a considerable proportion of them are likely to suffer from various disabilities that restrict their activity or even make them bedridden. This implies that recommendations have to cover a wide range, and that mean values may not offer valid information. Stratifying the elderly by age subgroups and activity level may be the most useful approach.

Formulating energy requirements for the elderly is particularly important since a relatively large proportion of this age group is institutionalized and fed meals planned by dietitians relying on such recommendations. A recent survey in the UK revealed that over 50% of institutionalized elderly subjects ate all the food provided to them and still lost LBM, a clear indication that their dietary requirements were not met (Prentice).

Total energy expenditure (TEE)

Roberts draws her conclusions from 74 measurements of TEE made by DLW in healthy and relatively active and lean individuals from industrialized countries, in an age range from 64 to 74 years; this limits the external validity (generalizability) of her conclusions considerably.

Most discussants find that DLW provides an interesting new approach, but they emphasize that this should not be taken to mean that older data used to infer energy requirements of the elderly are invalid and ought no longer be considered.

Currently available TEE data, obtained by the DLW method and compiled by Prentice, suggest that, throughout the whole life span, energy intakes should be slightly higher than those recommended in the 1985 report. Roberts attributes this to the fact that the 1985 recommendations relied heavily on the factorial method which, according to her, leaves certain activities unaccounted for and therefore leads to an underestimation of TEE. Other participants (e.g. Shetty and Ferro-Luzzi) believe that the differences are more likely to be attributable to a bias in the DLW data base.

Ferro-Luzzi has BMR and energy expenditure data (obtained by observation of activities and multiplication by their energy cost) of some 600 free-living people in Italy. She and others found that mean values of TEE decline with age, due to a decline of both BMR and physical activity.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

Throughout her paper, Roberts used the term resting energy expenditure (REE), because she was not sure if the metabolic rate measurements in the studies from which she obtained her data were all carried out under the strict conditions required of BMR measurements. Such precaution may be appropriate in this specific instance, but several discussants re-emphasized that REE is not a well defined concept, and that measuring and using BMR is preferable.

Schofield et al's data base contained only very few BMR values of individuals over 60, and their predictive equations therefore rest on an insecure basis. Henry and Durnin's ongoing re-analysis will include more data points, but their number remains inadequate; in particular, there are only very few data from this age group in less developed countries.

Ferro-Luzzi compared measured with predicted BMR values and found that, in the 60 to 75-year age group, predicted values exceed measured ones by about 10%.

A biologically interesting question is, whether changes in body mass and body composition in the elderly fully explain changes in BMR, as they do in younger adults, or if the aging process involves other metabolic changes that have to be taken into consideration. It is difficult to answer this question, because of the scarcity of body composition data from elderly people. Fat is more internal than subcutaneous, so that skinfolds become poor indicators of fat mass, and for practical reasons densitometric measurements have not been frequently made in this age group. Furthermore, aging results in changes within the fat-free mass that can have energy-metabolic effects, but on which sufficient information is not yet available. BMR per kg LBM seems to decrease slowly with age. This appears somewhat surprising. Since the elderly lose more muscle (with a relatively low metabolic rate at rest) than organ tissue (with a relatively high metabolic rate), one could expect BMR to increase in relation to body weight or LBM, but this phenomenon has actually only been observed in very undernourished, terminal patients.

Practically, the issue of body composition changes may be of lesser importance, since only few investigators will be able to make body composition measurements, and body composition changes that are typical of the elderly will be reflected in the predictive equations for BMR of this age group.

Inter-individual variation in BMR in the elderly is similar to that in older adults: a little over 10% (Ferro-Luzzi).

Physical activity level (PAL)

Roberts took adjusted values of total energy expenditure (TEE) (obtained by DLH method) and divided them by predicted BMR to obtain PAL values, which were higher than the average PAL value used to derive energy recommendations in the 1985 report. Several discussants argued that it would have been better to divide TEE by measured rather than predicted BMR.

Even though the PAL of certain people increases after retirement (Prentice), on average it decreases with age. Roberts reported a drop from 1.85 in 20-year-olds to 1.65 in 65-year-olds; Prentice estimated the mean drop of PAL in the elderly at about 0.1. In certain situations, e.g. in institutionalized people or elderly in poorer countries, energy deficiency should always be taken into consideration as a possible cause of low PALs.

Does the energy cost of activities change with increasing age? According to Durnin and Hautvast increases in energy cost have been observed in activities involving the whole body, like walking on a treadmill, where elderly people show an increasing number of extraneous movements.