Experts at Singapore study effects of nutritional intervention in elderly


Age, gender and nutritional status are shown as indicators of muscle mass

Changi General Hospital (CGH), SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP) and Abbott have announced results of the first of a two-part study which highlights the prevalence of muscle mass loss in normally nourished, community-dwelling elderly Singaporeans.

Started in 2017, funded by the Singapore Economic Development Board, CGH and Abbott, the SHIELD study findings – published this month in PLOS ONE journal shows that as people age, 1 in 5 elderly with normal nutritional status will potentially be at risk of sarcopenia or low muscle strength.



Asia’s population is ageing rapidly. By 2030, 25% of Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above, and now more than ever before stakeholders are looking at ways to ensure the health of this super ageing population. Given that, having healthy muscles is a critical enabler to ensure that the elderly can continue to retain their mobility, strength, energy levels and independence as they age.

The SHIELD study provides further weight to the importance of maintaining and improving muscle health as we age.

Statistics uncovered from phase one of the SHIELD study of 400 elderly over 65 years of age include:

  • Prevalence of low muscle mass was higher in females (24.9%) than in males (15.5%)
  • Every one-year increase in age over the age of 65 was associated with 13% higher odds of
  • having low muscle mass
  • Even adults with normal nutritional status were at risk for having lower muscle mass
  • 52% of participants had vitamin D insufficiency


“Asia is moving towards a future of super-aged societies and this places an enormous responsibility for all of us to improve the quality of life in our ageing population. Through this study, our aim is to understand the effect of nutrition on health outcomes, and to develop science-based solutions to manage and promote active, sustained, healthy living for the elderly. By supporting and partnering with local hospitals, academics and governments, we will be able to drive initiatives that improve the quality of life in ageing societies,” said Dr. Low Yen Ling, director of nutrition research and development at Abbott in Asia-Pacific, and one of the authors of the study.



The high prevalence of low muscle mass among elderly with normal nutritional status highlights the importance for elderly to be aware of their muscle mass status, in order to maintain their muscle health as they age. To best determine their muscle health, individuals can work with their healthcare providers to perform simple tests, such as the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST) and the Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA).

“Healthcare professionals should take note of these results and encourage their patients to consider early screening of their muscle mass and encourage them to adopt a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity and the right diet, including optimal levels of protein,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Ngiap Chuan, Family Physician and Director of Research at SingHealth Polyclinics.

The findings of the SHIELD study show that healthcare professionals also have an opportunity to help the public understand how to preserve and improve muscle health. They can recommend suitable physical activities, such as exercises that focus on building core strength, weight bearing and nutrition in the form of a high-protein balanced diet.

“It is well documented in previous studies that resistance exercise training and a high protein, well-balanced diet can prevent and even reverse sarcopenia in older persons, if detected early enough. In the hospital setting, it is important to ensure that the elderly eat adequate protein foods to meet their recommended dietary intake,” added Adjunct Assistant Professor Chew.


Photo Caption- [Left to Right] Dr Low Yen Ling, Adjunct Assistant Professor Samuel Chew, Adjunct Associate Professor Tan & Ms Magdalin Cheong 


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