Consuming more dairy can “drastically” improve the health of older people, according to an Australian study.

A team at the University of Melbourne found that there is an economic benefit from the increased dairy consumption by older people. They estimated that the fracture prevention potential from increasing dairy intake would equate to over €39m savings in Australian health spending.

In Ireland, it is estimated that over 300,000 people suffer from osteoporosis, with an estimated 30,000 fractures a year. Fractures account for 2% of the overall health costs here, which is estimated to be €400m per year.

The study, and the potential saving for Irish health care, was highlighted by the National Dairy Council (NDC).


The two-year peer reviewed Australian study began with a dietary intervention, where 7,000 residents across 30 residential care homes were given an increase in the amount of dairy they consume each day.

The scientists found that residents who consumed 3.5 servings of dairy per day, had a 46% reduced risk for hip fractures, 33% for all fractures and 11% for falls.

Elderly people who consumed more dairy had a reduced risk of fractures, an Australian study found.

The reduced risk was attributed to the additional calcium and high-quality protein found in dairy foods, the researchers found. They then calculated the cost-saving potential if the dietary changes were to be rolled out nationwide, across Australia.

“What the study shows is that when older adults almost double their intake of dairy products they maintain weight, bone density and nutritional status.

“What we’ve done is slow the decline of bone and muscle by changing the diet of older adults, despite the fact that they’re losing muscle naturally because they’re old,” said Dr Sandra Iuliano, a senior research fellow in the Department of Medicine, at the University of Melbourne.

Irish context

Professor Frances Dockery, consultant physician and geriatrician at Beaumont Hospital and the joint clinical lead for the fracture liaison services database in Ireland said: “In the Irish context, if the same scientific model was applied this could equate to significant savings relating to the economic burden of fractures, not to mention the impact on quality of life for older people through avoidance of a painful, debilitating fracture.

Older people should consume more dairy, the NDC said. \ Philip Doyle

“It is estimated that around 30% of patients with hip fracture die within a year of their injury and most of those who survive do not recover their baseline independence and function. Interestingly, the cost of intervention in this research study was just 70 cent (Euro 0.7) per resident, per day.

“It is therefore a cost- effective intervention with significant benefits which could be easily adopted across residential settings in Ireland.”