A drop in appetite in the elderly has been linked to earlier deaths, according to new research from Israel.


Often as you grow older, your appetite starts to fade, but now a new study by Israeli researchers has revealed that elderly people who experience a loss of appetite are more likely to die earlier.

In the study, Dr. Danit Shahar, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), reveals a link between elderly people’s appetite and mortality rates, with those who report a reduction in eating more likely to die sooner. 

The study showed a link between the Daily Activity Energy Expenditure (DAEE) – an accurate measurement of total physical activity – and appetite and mortality among well functioning community-dwelling adults.   

“These findings are important because they show how subjective appetite measurement can predict death, even when adjusting for health and many other variables,” said Shahar, a researcher with BGU’s Center for Health and Nutrition and Department of Epidemiology.  

“Past studies failed to show an association with survival. It was thought that decreased appetite may be an indicator or a result to other health problems, and that malnutrition, rather than low appetite was associated with mortality,” she added.

Increased appetite lowers risk of mortality

The study, which was published in May in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging,analyzes data from a health, aging and body composition (Health ABC) study to demonstrate that higher DAEE is strongly associated with increased appetite, resulting in lower risk of mortality in healthy older adults.  

Using 298 older participants (ages 70-82 years) in the Health ABC study, researchers analyzed DAEE and dietary factors, including self-reported appetite, enjoyment of eating and intake assessed by the Block Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) and Healthy Eating Index (HEI).  

Participants who reported improved appetite were at lower risk for mortality. Similarly, participants who reported good appetite at baseline had a low risk for mortality. The results remained significant taking into account health status, physical activity, demographic and nutritional indices. Follow up was nine years.  

Shahar said that information on an elderly patient’s eating habits can be vital for health providers when they consider risks for patient deterioration and mortality.