Lifestyle, nutritional status, health, and mortality in elderly people across Europe: a review of the longitudinal results of the SENECA study

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2004 Dec;59(12):1277-84. doi: 10.1093/gerona/59.12.1277.


This article provides an overview of the longitudinal Survey in Europe on Nutrition and the Elderly: a Concerted Action (SENECA) study, which was designed to assess differences in dietary and lifestyle factors among elderly Europeans, and to identify the factors that contribute to healthy aging. Elderly people from Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and The Netherlands participated in the SENECA study. Standardized measurements were conducted at baseline in 1988-1989 and were repeated in 1993 and 1999. Diet, physical activity, and smoking, as well as maintenance of health and survival, were assessed. At baseline, considerable differences in lifestyle factors existed among elderly people. Mealtime patterns as well as dietary intake varied across Europe, and geographical patterns were apparent. Similar results were found for engagement in sport or professional activities. The smoking prevalence among women was generally low. Distinct geographical differences were also observed in percentages of deaths during the SENECA study and in overall survival time. A healthy lifestyle was related to stable self-perceived health, a delay in functional dependence, and mortality. Inactivity and smoking, and to a lesser extent a low-quality diet, increased mortality risk. A combined effect of multiple unhealthy lifestyle factors was also observed. The SENECA study showed that a healthy lifestyle at older ages is related to a delay in the deterioration of health status and a reduced mortality risk. Improving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in elderly people across Europe is a great challenge for the European Community.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Diet
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mortality*
  • Nutritional Status*