Food and Health from Conception to Extreme Old Age

  • Elsie M. Widdowson


Good nutrition is the most important environmental influence for health throughout the whole of life. It promotes satisfactory fertility. Once conception has taken place, the foetus depends on adequate supplies of nutrients reaching it from the mother s circulation through the uterus and placenta to enable it to grow at its proper rate, and this may be hindered in a variety of ways. After birth all is usually well if the infant is breast fed and the mother has a good supply of milk, but if the infant is not breast-fed its progress depends on the volume and composition of the food administered to it; in the UK, excesses are more likely than deficiencies. During the first 2 or 3 years, protein requirements in relation to energy are higher than they are later, as also are the requirements for some of the mineral elements. Calcium requirements, moreover, remain high all through childhood while the skeleton is growing and calcifying.

Healthy adults present few nutritional problems. Most eat enough of a mixed diet to meet their requirements. The most widespread disorder is the intake of too much energy and consequently of obesity.

There is generally no sudden fall-off in requirements with advancing age, and there is wide variation between individuals in the rate at which they slow down. All have to slow down as they get old, and this means that their requirements for energy will fall-though not their requirements for some of the nutrients. The digestive system often remains fully functional into old age, though there are sometimes problems with constipation. In early old age there is often a tendency to eat more than one requires, and unfortunately many elderly people are overweight. In extreme old age, however, obesity is the exception, and most very old people are thin. Such individuals can seldom eat large meals, and require frequent small nutritious ones. Taste is often less acute than formerly but, as other interests are of necessity curtailed, food often becomes one of an old person’s major preoccupations.


Linoleic Acid Human Milk Infant Milk Chronic Undernutrition Phosphatidyl Choline Fraction 
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Copyright information

© Applied Science Publishers Ltd 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elsie M. Widdowson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MedicineAddenbrooke’s HospitalCambridgeUK

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