New food recommendation for elderly: Functional capacity must be promoted and malnutrition prevented in a timely manner

April 1/2020

The new ‘Vireyttä seniorivuosiin’ food recommendation is intended to promote an active and healthy lifestyle and includes guidelines on how to improve older adults’ functional capacity through healthy eating, both as retirement age approaches and during retirement itself. The recommendation also aims to promote social wellbeing, participation, and inclusion among older adults through opportunities for social dining.

This new initiative is the outcome of a national quality recommendation jointly published by the National Nutrition Council and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. It defines how high-quality food services based on the needs of older adults and the promotion of social dining should be organised. Good nutrition is an important factor in maintaining functional capacity and a better quality of life. Studies show that poor nutrition leads to ill health, an increasing need for care and treatment in social welfare and health services, and premature death.

The new recommendation offers guidance to ensure quality is maintained in the provision of food services for older adults
The recommendation suggests that older adults should be included in the design of food services. Here, there is an emphasis on the importance of listening to their wishes regarding alternative food services and individual choices, and developing different ways of increasing inclusion for precisely this purpose.

The recommendation also defines what constitutes a good home meal service and how to provide high quality meals around the clock in residential care and service settings. Tools for assessing nutritional status, the early identification of malnutrition risk, and enhanced treatment are also provided.

The new recommendation for older adults replaces its 2010 predecessor, which was considered to no longer meet today's needs. It also includes concrete recommendations regarding, for example, meal scheduling, the content and nutritional value of basic and special diets, and portion sizes with sample images.

“The new recommendation provides excellent guidelines regarding the content of food services for older adults and benchmarks for the quality of the food provided through these services, which are then applicable in procurement processes”, explains Susanna Raulio, expert group member and senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.

“The hope is that this recommendation will be comprehensively taken up throughout Finland when arrangements are being made for food services for older adults and in the supervising and monitoring of these services”, she goes on to emphasise.

Tasty and nutritious meals eaten together – effect prevention of malnutrition
Some older adults do not eat enough food or do not have enough essential nutrients in their diet. A good nutritional status can be maintained and malnutrition prevented by providing varied and tasty meals that have enough energy and are nutritionally balanced. Eating together not only increases our appetite, but also entices others to join in and eat well, too.

“It’s important that a decline in a person's nutritional status is identified as early as possible. It is much easier to improve nutritional status than it is to treat malnutrition”, says Professor Ursula Schwab, chair of the expert group responsible for drawing up the recommendation.

The most important part of preventing malnutrition is regularly monitoring any changes in a person’s weight and diet and making the necessary dietary changes in a timely manner. Nutritional treatment should always be based on assessment of an individual’s nutritional status and an up-to-date treatment plan.

An expert group appointed by the National Nutrition Council was responsible for drafting the recommendation. The draft recommendation was made openly available for comment in November 2019. Targeted requests for feedback were also sent out at this time. Feedback was received from 74 different organisations and individuals.

The recommendation is aimed at older adult health care and food service providers and decision-makers in public and private social and health services, including home care settings and residential care, nursing homes, and rehabilitation services. The recommendation also provides valuable information for older adults and their family carers on how to take care of their own diet and the principles behind food services for older adults.

A webinar launching the new food recommendation for older adults was held on 31 March, from 9 am to 11 am. The online presentation is available at


Vireyttä seniorivuosiin - ikääntyneiden ruokasuositukset. National Nutrition Council and Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Guidance 4/2020. The English version will be published later in spring.

The publication is available for purchase at the THL webstore
And online as an e-book

Further information:
Ursula Schwab, Professor, University of Eastern Finland, Expert Group Chairperson
ursula.schwab(at), tel. +358 (0)29 445 4528

Irma Nykänen, Docent, University of Eastern Finland, Expert Group Secretary
irma.nykanen(at), tel. +358 (0)40 355 2991

Susanna Raulio, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
susanna.raulio(at), tel. +358 (0)29 524 8574

Arja Lyytikäinen, Secretary General, National Nutrition Council 
arja.lyytikainen(at), tel. +358 (0)50 409 9860