Health and Fitness

Nearly Half of Filipino Grandparents Could Be Malnourished

Here’s how you can help them.

Nearly half of older Filipino adults are found to be at risk of malnutrition, and our grandparents could be one of them. According to health care company Abbott, malnutrition affects a third of older adults, a population that is expected to grow rapidly in Asia. In the Philippines, more than four out of 10 older adults are at risk of malnutrition.

Malnutrition affects muscle mass and immunity.

Malnutrition, which affects both underweight and overweight individuals, occurs when the body does not get the nutrients it needs. It often goes undiagnosed because it is not assessed regularly during visits to the doctor. 

According to Abbott, every one-year increase in age after 65 is associated with a 13 percent higher odds of having low muscle mass, even in older adults with normal nutritional status. Older adults require up to 30 percent more protein in their diet to maintain the same muscle mass as young people in their 20s.

To avoid malnutrition, older adults require a sustained effort in maintaining a balanced diet and exercise.

Muscles help maintain a strong immune system.

Not many people realize that the muscles play an important role in maintaining the body’s immune system. A robust muscle mass helps maintain a very strong immune system.

Unfortunately for aging adults, they begin to lose muscle mass when they hit their 50s or 60s. Low muscle mass is associated with adverse health outcomes and slower recovery rates in older adults. The loss of muscle mass may lead to weaker immunity, leaving the elderly more vulnerable to infectious diseases. 


If left unchecked, immunity becomes compromised when an older adult loses more than 10 percent of their lean body mass. With age, there is a natural decline in the body’s immune system that can further impact its ability to fight pathogens and infections. Building muscle mass through diet, nutritional intervention, and exercise can help older adults to retain their mobility, strength, energy levels, and independence as they age.

Findings from a study conducted by Changi General Hospital (CGH), SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP), and Abbott highlight the link between aging, muscle mass, and malnutrition. The study, dubbed “SHIELD” (strengthen health in the elderly) revealed improved nutritional intake reduced the risk of malnutrition by 300 percent and promoted better health.

“Given the Philippines’ aging population especially amid this pandemic and the results from this SHIELD study, it is important to reverse the effects of malnutrition by developing interventions so that older Filipinos can continue to strengthen their immunity,” said Dr. Sandy Dumlao, president of the Philippine Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology.

Adults can take oral supplements containing HMB. 

A high-protein, well-balanced diet plays an essential role in ensuring that the recommended daily intake of nutrients is met. Ingredients such as lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, beans, and pulses, as well as cheese and other dairy products, are rich sources of protein. 

For adults with chewing and swallowing difficulties, those experiencing loss of appetite, and those who are at risk of malnutrition, texture-modified diets or oral nutrition supplements containing HMB like Abbott's Ensure Gold may be prescribed to support proper dietary intake. HMB, a muscle-enhancing metabolite, is typically added to medical foods for patients with muscle loss. It is also found in many body-building supplements. Other studies also point to the benefits of drinking protein shakes. Combined with exercise, the use of protein shakes showed significant health benefits in a group of men over the age of 70. 

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Agnes Tey, the lead author of SHIELD and a senior clinical scientist at Abbott, underscores the importance of nutrition intervention: "The findings of this study highlight the importance of early intervention, even for older adults living independently in the community. Assessing the nutritional status of the older persons in primary care is pivotal to their muscle health, making a big difference in their quality of life at the end of the day."

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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