As life expectancies increase in most developed countries, consumers are interested in not only growing old but also aging well. As a consequence, the demand for health and wellness foods has increased. In the United States, the most frequent ailments of older consumers are arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Consumers over 45 years of age have at least one chronic condition that they would rather use food than medicine to address. And consumers without health care are perhaps even more interested in food choices that address health issues.
During the session “Specialized Nutrition: Opportunities in Medical Foods and Beyond for Aging, Developing, and other Specialized Populations,” speakers addressed a few of the health issues that new food products address. LuAnn Williams, Innova Market Insights, said that the loss of muscle mass during the aging process is a big driver of new products on the market. Humans lose up to 37% of muscle tissue as they age, and their body fat increases by 114%. Foods with high protein content are thus imperative for aging consumers. Losses in vision quality, bone mass, and cognition also occur as consumers age. Foods rich in vitamin A, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids can address these issues.
Regardless of which foods consumers choose to address age-related health issues, the food labels on those products must adhere to specific requirements for health claims, according to Anthony Pavel, K&L Gates LLP. Food additives and GRAS (generally recognized as safe) substances are permitted in conventional foods, but adding non-approved dietary supplements to foods is prohibited. And foods with functional ingredients should never be referred to or marketed as medical foods. Medical foods, which must be consumed enterally under the supervision of a physician, are the toughest regulatory category, Pavel said.