Skills to Develop
- Identify and define the different stages of the human lifecycle.
- Explain how the human body develops from childhood through the elderly years.
As discussed previously, all people need the same basic nutrients—essential amino acids, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, and twenty-eight vitamins and minerals—to maintain life and health. However, the amounts of needed nutrients change as we pass from one stage of the human lifecycle to the next. Young children require a higher caloric intake relative to body size to facilitate physical and mental development. On the other hand, inactive senior citizens need fewer calories than other adults to maintain their weight and stay healthy. Psychological, emotional, and social issues over the span of a human life can also influence diet and nutrition. For example, peer pressure during adolescence can greatly affect the nutritional choices a teenager makes. Therefore, it is important to weigh a number of considerations when examining how nutrient needs change. In this chapter, we will focus on diet, nutrition, and the human life cycle from adulthood into the elderly years.
Changes in Young Adulthood
The phase after adolescence is young adulthood, and this period spans ages nineteen to thirty. It is a stable time compared to childhood and adolescence. Physical growth has been completed and all of the organs and body systems are fully developed. Typically, a young adult who is active has reached his or her physical peak and is in prime health. For example, vital capacity, or the maximum amount of air that the lungs can inhale and exhale, is at its peak between the ages of twenty and forty.Elaine U. Polan, RNC, MS and Daphne R. Taylor, RN, MS, Journey Across the Life Span: Human Development and Health Promotion (Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Company, 2003), 192–93. Proper nutrition and adequate physical activity at this stage not only promote wellness in the present but also provide a solid foundation for the future.
Changes in Middle Age
Nutritionally speaking, middle age is defined as the period from age thirty-one to fifty. The early period of this stage is very different from the end. For example, during the early years of middle age, many women experience pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. In the latter part of this life stage, women face perimenopause, which is a transition period that leads up to menopause, or the end of menstruation. A number of physical changes take place in the middle-age years, including the loss of bone mass in women due to dropping levels of estrogen during menopause. In both men and women, visual acuity declines, and by age forty there can be a decreased ability to see objects at a close distance, a condition known as presbyopia.Elaine U. Polan, RNC, MS and Daphne R. Taylor, RN, MS, Journey Across the Life Span: Human Development and Health Promotion (Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Company, 2003), 192–93. All of these are signs of aging, as the human body begins to change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. However, a middle aged person can remain vital, healthy, and near his or her physical peak with proper diet and adequate exercise.
Changes in the Older Adult Years
The senior, or elderly, years are the period from age fifty-one until the end of life. A number of physiological and emotional changes take place during this life stage. For example, many elderly adults face serious health challenges, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or dementia. Both men and women experience a loss of muscle mass and strength and undergo changes in body composition. Fat deposits build up in the abdominal area, which increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The skin becomes thinner and may take longer to heal after an injury. Around age seventy, men begin to experience bone loss when estrogen and testosterone levels begin to decline.American Medical Association, Complete Guide to Prevention and Wellness (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008), 512. Healthy nutritional choices can help to prevent or manage disability and chronic conditions.
In addition, disorders of the nervous system can have profound effects. Dementia is the umbrella term for changes in the normal activity of the brain. Elderly adults who suffer from dementia may experience memory loss, agitation, and delusions. One in eight people over age sixty-four and almost half of all people over eighty-five suffer from the brain disorder Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.American Medical Association, Complete Guide to Prevention and Wellness (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008), 421. Neurological disorder and psychological conditions, such as depression, can influence attitudes toward food, along with the ability to prepare or ingest food. They might lead some adults to overindulge to compensate for stress or emotions that are difficult to handle. Other adults might eat less or pay less attention to their diet and nutritional needs. Elderly adults may also need guidance from dietitians and healthcare professionals to make the best dietary choices for this stage of life.
Changing Needs and Nutrition
Nutritional needs continue to change at each stage of life. It is important to adjust your diet and physical activity to meet these changing needs and ensure health and wellness throughout your life. Parents must continue to help their school-aged children and adolescents establish healthy eating habits and attitudes toward food. Their primary role is to bring a wide variety of health-promoting foods into the home so that their children can make good choices. As children become adults, they must be mindful of the choices they make and how those choices affect their health, not only in the present but also in the future.
The human body constantly changes throughout the life cycle, from childhood into adulthood and old age. Proper nutrition and physical activity ensure health and wellness at each stage of the human lifecycle.
- In preparation for this chapter, predict how nutrient needs might change as a healthy young adult matures into old age. Then, after reading the text, discuss if your predictions were correct or incorrect.