A New Fact Sheet on Foodborne Illnesses in Older Adults
Monday, November 10, 2014
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Safe Food Project has partnered with the American Geriatrics Society on a new fact sheet, Senior Citizens and Foodborne Illnesses. This fact sheet was developed to help educate the public and policy makers on the importance of food safety to prevent illness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, estimates that each year, 1 in 6 Americans—48 million people—suffers from a foodborne illness, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.Senior citizens (those age 65 and older) are particularly at risk and may experience conditions such as chronic illness or disability and undergo major surgeries, which can exacerbate susceptibility to foodborne illnesses and their resulting complications. Some die from these preventable illnesses, and many others suffer lasting health problems.
Factors that put senior citizens at higher risk for foodborne illness
- Immune system function decreases with age, which makes it harder for the body to fight infections.
- Chronic diseases and ailments such as malnutrition and immobility occur at high rates in seniors and can increase their vulnerability to infections.
- Changes in the digestive system of older adults can reduce their production of stomach acid, which is an important defense against foodborne pathogens. The frequent use of antacids and antibiotics can further hamper acid production and can disrupt beneficial bacteria in the gut that offer some protection from harmful foodborne contaminants. Older adults also typically exhibit slower digestion, giving pathogens an extended amount of time to colonize and infect the body.\
By the numbers: Seniors and Foodborne Illness
- According to CDC’s most recent surveillance data, the highest percentages of persons who were hospitalized with foodborne illness and who eventually died from infection were those age 65 and older.