Why is this important?
Quite simply, because the global population is getting older. Improved living conditions, hygiene, nutrition and health care means that the number of people living for longer is rapidly increasing. But is living for longer necessarily a good thing if those additional years are spent in poor health? And can our healthcare systems cope with the extra burden?
Maintaining the health of individuals as they age will be paramount in improving the quality of life for the elderly and in reducing the impact on public finances. To address this issue, experts in genetics at Unilever have begun to explore why some people age more healthily.
What’s the secret?
Studies have shown that the middle-aged offspring of long-lived siblings (90 years plus) are healthier than those who do not have such long-lived parents. Using state-of-the-art genomic techniques, Unilever is working with Leiden University in the Netherlands to understand how genetic and lifestyle factors enable these individuals to age better, and whether their ageing ‘secrets’ can be used to improve the health of others.
Previously it has only been possible to study the activity of one gene at a time. Now genomic technologies enable all the genes in the human genome (approximately 25,000) to be tested at once.
Looking to the future
By partnering with the best ageing studies in the world and using the latest scientific techniques, Unilever aims to be the first to identify and understand important insights into ageing and health to direct further internal research.
Unilever products are used by millions of people around the world each and every day. As such, we are ideally placed to promote products that could help reduce the impact of everyday ‘wear and tear’ that our bodies experience.
We are only at the start of the journey. Finding ways to utilise the knowledge that will be generated by the project will be a huge challenge. But it should help produce future product and business innovations that will effectively help people live healthier for longer.
What progress has already been made in the area of healthy ageing?
Unilever pioneered a health promoting product (Becel pro-activ) which helps to reduce cholesterol levels as part of a healthy diet, one of the established risk factors for heart disease. It also developed an online method for helping individuals understand their own personal heart health (Heart Age) better.