Healthy elderly Italians may be at risk of micronutrient deficiencies

May 4, 2011

A considerable proportion of apparently healthy elderly Italians may be deficient in several essential vitamins or at high risk of becoming so, says a new study.

The observational study explored the trends of vitamin intake over a 10-year follow-up in a group of healthy elderly Italians (aged 70-75 years at the beginning of the trial), calculating the percentages of individuals with a vitamin B1, B2, A and C intakes below the lowest European Recommended Dietary Intake value (1). The study results showed that the intake for each vitamin type to be greater than the Lowest European RDI, with the exception of vitamin B1, for which 44 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women were already deficient. After a decade, the number of individuals with vitamin B2 and vitamin A deficiency rose to
50 percent of total participants. Vitamin C deficiencies rose in a decade from 3 percent to 6 percent in men and from 2.3 percent to 4.5 percent in women. However, mean energy and macronutrient intake were consistent with dietary guidelines at both points in time and there was no decline in total energy intake after a decade.

The researchers concluded that a considerable proportion of elderly Italians may be already deficient, or at high risk of becoming deficient, in several essential vitamins despite adequate nutritional and functional status and total energy intake, which can be additionally expected to cover the recommendations for micronutrients. Multivitamin supplementation, in that case, would be necessary even for apparently healthy individuals to ensure adequate micronutrient intakes for the elderly.

That older people have inadequate vitamin intakes is a common finding. Tendency towards vitamin intake decline with increasing age has been reported in several studies (2). Poor intakes of essential vitamins, such as B1, B2, A, C and D, has been confirmed in a large proportion of the elderly as a consequence of a reduced food intake due to dietary restrictions (3) or limited dietary variety (4).


  1. Toffanello E. D. et al. Ten-year trends in vitamin intake in free-living healthy elderly people: The risk of subclinical malnutrition. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. 2011; 15(2):99–103.
  2. Marshall T. A. et al. Inadequate nutrient intakes are common and are associated with low diet variety in rural, community-dwelling elderly. J Nutr. 2001; 131:2192–2196.
  3. Sjogren A. et al. Intake of energy, nutrients and food items in a ten-year cohort comparison and in a six-year longitudinal perspective: a population study of 70- and 76-year-old people. Age Ageing. 1994; 23:108–112.
  4. Roberts S. B. et al. Dietary variety predicts low body mass index and inadequate macronutrient and micronutrient intakes in community-dwelling older adults. J Gerontol. 2005; 5:613–621.