The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News
  • Global Boom of 65+ Population Opens Door for U.S. Whey Protein

    By Kristi Saitama July 23, 2015

    There are four things U.S. dairy suppliers can do to help make whey protein the sarcopenia fighter for an aging world. 

    9899664_mMore than a quarter of Japan’s population is 65 or older. That percentage has been rising 1% every few years and, by all accounts, will keep rising through 2060 when more than 40% of the country’s population will be 65 or older. The reason: a low birth rate coupled with rising life expectancy.

    The phenomenon is not isolated to Japan. According to United Nations' projections, the number of people over 65 worldwide will triple from 530 million in 2010 to more than 1.5 billion in 2050. Already, the number of Chinese 65 years of age and older is equal to the total population of Japan. By 2050, China will have 330 million people age 65 and older (more than the entire current U.S. population); the United States will have more than 85 million.


    So many people seeking ways to optimize health and vitality for those years of life presents a huge opportunity to U.S. dairy suppliers on multiple fronts: ingredients for medical nutrition, messaging for osteoporosis and, potentially the largest of the bunch, whey protein to mitigate sarcopenia risk.

    Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. We lose 0.5-1% of muscle annually starting as early as 40 years of age. Sarcopenia increases the risk of falls and fractures, undermines independence, interferes with simple day-to-day tasks and raises mortality rates.

    Published research has revealed critical insights into whey protein’s effect on muscle health, but that information is not widely known by most foreign consumers or health professionals. USDEC is working hard to raise awareness. 

    We have a story to tell regarding sarcopenia, but the story is nuanced. It’s about protein quality—whey protein stands out vs. competitive proteins for its amino acid profile. It is a rich source of leucine, for example, which is unique in its ability to initiate muscle protein synthesis.

    The story is also about consumption throughout the day—there is a limit to how much protein a body can use at one time. The ideal intake is about 30 grams of protein at each meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is suggested for young adults but several research studies show older adults may require more protein to experience the same impact to muscle synthesis.

    The 12th Asian Congress of Nutrition, held in Yokohama, Japan, in May highlighted protein as a key topic. At the conference, designed to encourage scientific interchange among food and nutrition professionals across Asia, USDEC hosted a symposium titled, “Aging and Muscle Loss: Dietary Approaches to Reduce Sarcopenia Risk,” where speakers reinforced messages of protein’s importance and the nuances of being smart about protein quality and protein intake timing.

    If health professionals are fully informed of the latest research, it raises the likelihood that they may lead efforts to revise local dietary guidelines in favor of protein. That’s already going on in Japan, where the government has proposed increasing the recommended daily protein intake for seniors. 

    Individual U.S. dairy ingredient and product suppliers can help lay the groundwork for expanded use of whey protein with end users by:

    1. Developing products that fit local taste preferences and lifestyles. Even if health professionals are telling the right story, consumers need options readily available to purchase in the marketplace. And they want foods that they can conveniently incorporate into their daily food habits—not merely products that promise good things but require a change in diet. Protein-rich versions of products they already consume are a promising opportunity.
    2. Developing non-senior positioning. No one, no matter the country, wants to think, “I need special senior food because I’m so old.” The message needs to be one of general health. Japan developed a category of products that it markets simply as soft foods (including items like puddings and soft jellies), highlighting not senior appeal but broader benefits: easy to chew, easy to digest and filled with nutrients.
    3. Making the message egalitarian. There’s a lingering misconception that whey protein products are only for muscle builders and athletes. All messaging should make consumers think, “This applies to me.” It should make whey protein relevant to the broader swath of health-conscious consumers.
    4. Making the product convenient for the market. Seniors eat less, often live alone and may be restricted by physical capabilities. They need small portion sizes and easy-to-handle, open and prepare packaging.

    Sarcopenia is slowly making its way into the vernacular. With a coordinated industry effort, whey protein can become known as the sarcopenia fighter.

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.   


    Global Marketing Japan Whey products Nutrition
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