Over 60 and underweight

As you get older, you may start to lose weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight is important, and there are steps you can take to gain weight healthily.

If you’re underweight or have lost weight suddenly or for no obvious reason, see your GP to ensure there is no underlying cause for this weight loss.

You may be underweight simply because your diet doesn't give you enough energy or calories.

Being underweight can be especially serious for older people. It increases your risk of health problems, including bone fracture if you fall. It weakens your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infections, and it increases your risk of being deficient in important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

However, you can take steps to improve your diet and get the energy and nutrients you need.

Manage your changing appetite

As we get older, it is common for our appetite to get smaller and we may not feel like eating.

If you are underweight and your appetite has decreased, it’s still important to get all the energy and nutrients that your body needs. There are three ways to do this:

  • Switch to smaller meals and frequent snacks, so that you're not struggling to eat three large meals a day.
  • Increase your calorie intake by eating food that delivers the energy and nutrients you need to maintain good health. 
  • Avoid filling up on foods that are high in saturated fat or sugars, such as sugary fizzy drinks, cakes and biscuits.

Try the following healthier, high-energy meal and snack ideas:

  • porridge made with milk, with fruit or dried fruit on top
  • sardines on toast
  • peanut butter on toast
  • soups with pulses, pasta or meats
  • cottage/shepherd’s pie
  • beans on toast with cheese sprinkled on top
  • milky drinks as a bedtime snack
  • unsalted nuts

The following steps will add more calories from healthier foods to your diet and help you gain weight:

  • Sprinkle cheese on a variety of savoury dishes.
  • Add cheese or milk to soups.
  • Spread avocado on toast for a high-energy and healthy snack.
  • Pour white sauce (made with butter, flour and milk) on fish or vegetables.
  • Replace one cup of tea or coffee with a cup of warm milk.
  • Put milk or butter into mashed potato.
  • Have porridge made with milk sprinkled with dried fruit for a high-energy, healthy breakfast.

Check out these easy-to-make healthy recipes.

Eat with friends and family

Some people find it difficult or even impossible to prepare their own food as they get older. Other people lose their interest in food. Both can lead to becoming underweight. 

If you're struggling to be interested in food or you've lost the motivation to eat, try to eat with friends or family as often as possible. Lunch clubs are also a great way to make mealtimes more social.

If you find it difficult to prepare foods, try the following tips:

  • When choosing ready meals, always check the label and try to choose ones with less salt. It can be hard to find a ready meal that is nutritionally balanced. To find out how to choose a healthy meal, read about food labels.
  • Keep some tinned and dried fruit at home. It’s an alternative to fresh fruit, needs no preparation and can count towards your five a day. Tinned fruit is also easy to eat if you have dental problems.
  • Keep some frozen and tinned vegetables at home. They're easy to prepare and can count towards your 5 A DAY.
  • Buy puddings and snacks that come in individual pots, such as yoghurt and rice puddings.

Be active and work up an appetite

Physical activity is particularly important for older people. It can help you stay healthy, mobile and independent.

Being active helps keep your heart healthy and lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke – even if you’re underweight. You may also feel hungrier the more active you are.

To find out how much physical activity is recommended and what counts as activity, see:

The amount of physical activity you should do may be different from other people your age if you're underweight, have mobility problems or a disability. Your GP or practice nurse can advise you about this.

Help at home if you need it

If you struggle to cook for yourself or to shop for food, consider getting outside help.

You may be entitled to have hot and frozen ready-made meals delivered to your home (often called meals on wheels), which is provided by your local council’s social services. There is usually a charge for the service.

You can find out more about getting meals at home on GOV.UK.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2013

Next review due: 11/09/2015

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 51 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

Useful links

NHS Choices links

External links

Eating well on a budget

In this video, dietitian Azmina Govindji gives advice on how to eat healthily on a budget.

Media last reviewed: 14/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015

Healthy weight calculator

Check your BMI

Use our healthy weight calculator to easily measure your or your child’s BMI (body mass index)

Healthy recipes

Healthy recipe ideas for meals low in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt but high in taste

Vitamins, minerals and supplements

How to get all the nutrients you need, and safety advice about supplements

Food and diet

Find out how to achieve a healthy, nutritious diet to help you look and feel your best

What does 100 calories look like?

A visual guide to 100-calorie (420 kilojoules) portion sizes compared with everyday household objects

Healthy hearts

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the UK. Find out what to do to keep your heart fit for purpose

Women's health 60-plus

Healthy lifestyle information and advice for women aged 60 and over

Men's health 60-plus

Healthy lifestyle information for men aged 60 and over

Media last reviewed: 07/01/2013

Next review due: 07/01/2015