A series of UK focus groups with the over-60s recently conducted by branding agency Dragon demonstrated that baby boomers were far more worried about losing their marbles than furred arteries or reduced mobility, senior consultant Clare Simpson told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
And this represented a “largely untapped” area of opportunity for food and drink manufacturers, she claimed.
“We asked them to list their biggest health concerns, and worries about mental sharpness and memory were far more pronounced than those about heart health, blood pressure, incontinence, brittle bones, arthritis and declining mobility.
“As people live healthier, more active lives well into their 60s and 70s, angst about physical fitness has been transferred into angst about mental fitness, especially as we are all living longer.
“One of our most surprising findings was how mental alertness and dementia had climbed to be one of the top health concerns for this age group.”
Many of the over-60s Dragon talked to were already making a conscious effort to keep their minds active via brain training games, crossword puzzles or other activities, and would welcome more products that could perform a similar function, claimed Simpson.
Several also felt that foods and supplements targeting brain function were largely aimed at children, with some focus group members citing omega-3-based products aimed at kids as an example of this, she added.
“There was a growing sentiment that you need to focus on prevention rather than cure, and try to look after yourself, and avoid being a burden to others.”
Is the science there?
However, firms keen to cash in face an uphill struggle given the strictures of the EU health claims Regulation and the embryonic nature of much of the research in the brain food field, according to a recent report into healthy ageing from Leatherhead Food Research LFR).
While considerable resources had been devoted to exploring the effects of DHA, Bacopa Monnieri (a herb claimed to reduce beta-amyloid deposits in mice with Alzheimer’s); phosphatidylserine (PS) and gingko biloba on brain function, however, the jury was still out on many of these ingredients, said LFR.
“The efficacy of many of the ingredients in this market is far from proven and this is also hindering market development. The high level of rejection by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is also blocking current and probably inhibiting future applications.”
To date, the only 'brain health' ingredient securing a positive opinion under new EU claims legislation is the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which EFSA has agreed can "contribute to normal brain development of the foetus, infant and young children".
However, it has not yet given the green light to any claims relating to DHA and mental function in older people.