A child born in the United Kingdom or the USA in 1850 had a life expectancy of about 40 years; a child born in either of these two countries in 1997 can expect to live to be 75–80 years. This longevity may well be exceeded in the forseeable future. As the number of older people grows it becomes ever more important that they should be in good health. This would not only enable them to enjoy life and be useful in their communities, it would also reduce the cost of health care and general maintenance. Everybody therefore has, or will have, an interest in the problems of ageing. Although almost all the organs of the body show a decline in activity with the passing years, the ability to eat and to digest and absorb food seem to show little deterioration in old people in good general health. Relatively little is known about the nutritional needs of older people compared with the vast amount known about the younger groups. Early signs of malnutrition are generally nonspecific and are easily thought to be due to the numerous degenerative changes occurring in old age and it is only when extreme malnutrition occurs that it is likely to be recognised. The early signs may be weakness, loss of weight, anaemia, poor vision, thin skin, easy bruising, fracture of bones, mental disturbance and other changes all of which may be due to diseases occurring more often than does malnutrition. Disease and dietary deficiency may, of course, occur together, especially when the disease in some way limits the ability to maintain an adequate diet.