Half the seniors in Singapore are not getting enough protein in their diets, increasing their risk of not just fractures, but also of dying.
To increase their intake, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) plans to work with food manufacturers to reformulate products so they contain higher levels of protein to help people aged 50 years and older keep their muscle and bone mass.
The move will be a throwback to what Singapore did in 1956, when it added fluoride to water to improve dental health.
HPB's chief executive officer Zee Yoong Kang said in an interview with The Straits Times that he expects to have a range of such foods available from next year.
Last year's National Nutrition Survey found that half the people here aged 50 years and older do not eat enough protein, which leads to weight loss, frailty and higher risk of falls.
Mr Zee hopes that increasing the protein content in soups, porridge and even ice cream and herbal jelly will raise the proportion of older people getting enough protein by 50 per cent - or to three in four.
The board said it is too early to name the manufacturers. The idea is to add plant-based protein to the food without affecting the taste.
This is already done by pharmaceutical companies for products for seniors such as milk drinks Ensure Plus from Abbott, which has 12.5g of protein, and Enercal from Wyeth, which has 14g of protein per serving.
People start losing both bone and muscle mass at the half-century mark unless they increase their consumption of protein by about 50 per cent at that point, said Dr Annie Ling, HPB's director of policy, research and surveillance.
This means that they will need to eat about 12g more protein a day - which is roughly an additional brick of tofu, or two eggs, or a slightly smaller than palm-size piece of chicken.
Dr Tan Shi Ming, an orthopaedic surgeon at Singapore General Hospital, said osteoporosis or loss of bone mass increases fragility and risk of fractures, especially of the hip, wrist and spine. Sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, makes the elderly more prone to falls, functional decline and death.
More than 2,000 people fracture their hips here each year.
Dr Tan said the outcome of hip fractures for older people is generally poorer as they have lower reserves and other medical problems, making them more susceptible to complications. They may also lose muscle mass during the period of inactivity until they recover.
The Singapore Chinese Health study, a longitudinal study which has tracked subjects for more than two decades, found a 39 per cent higher risk of death among people with significant weight loss of 10 per cent or more.
The National Population Health Survey 2017 found that between their 40s and 60s, Singaporeans lost an average of 10 per cent of their weight. Mr Zee said: "A lot of older people don't realise they need more protein."
Some might also find it difficult to change their eating habits to consume more protein.
He believes that it would be easier to increase protein content in the foods people normally eat than to get them to increase their food intake to meet their protein needs.
While there are foods such as milk which are enriched with higher levels of protein on the market, this is lacking in Asian staples and food products.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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