Nutrition-wise blog

Older adults may lack access to affordable, nutritious food

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. January 28, 2016

I just read a recent AARP article, "The New Face of Hunger" and was surprised to learn that:

  • About 10 million people age 50 and older are food insecure. Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
  • This number has doubled since 2001 and isn't showing signs of decreasing.

As a part of an anti-hunger initiative, the AARP Foundation commissioned a report on food insecurity among older adults. This report digs deeper into survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others. Some of its key findings include:

  • Lack of adequate food — and proper makeup of the foods available — are strong and detrimental forces shaping older adult health.
  • Food insecurity is a strong predictor of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, pulmonary disease, diabetes, reduced muscle mass, poor vision, lower bone density, emotional stress and depression.
  • The food insecure show poorer health on every health indicator than those who are food secure.

Here are the factors influencing where low-income seniors over age 50 buy food:

  • Cost
  • Location
  • Availability of nutritious food

Another report from AARP shows that seniors suffer from "nutrition knowledge" insecurity. What do seniors feel they need in order to bridge the knowledge gap?

  • Ways to find affordable fruits and vegetables (56 percent)
  • Recipe ideas (44 percent)
  • More time to cook (40 percent)
  • Transportation (39 percent)
  • Better cooking skills (37 percent)
  • Information on how to read labels (36 percent)
  • Information on enrolling in nutrition assistance (34 percent)
  • More money, better finances, discounts (3 percent)

Seniors rely on friends and family and media primarily for information about food and nutrition. Health care professionals consistently rank lower as a resource.

The take-away? Long-standing efforts have focused on giving people food. Newer efforts are needed go beyond addressing the basics of hunger to focus on nutrition knowledge including how to access resources for nutrition assistance and transportation.

  • Family and friends: Continue to be the front-line support for seniors. Assist with applying to supplemental food programs, congregate dining and home-delivered meals. Help with transportation to grocery stores and food shelves, and provide easy-prep nutritious recipes and opportunities to eat with others (family meals). For more information, contact your local Public Health Department and ask for senior resources.
  • Health care providers: Do better. Diet is critical in disease management and in preventing problems from developing. Providers must remember to translate medical advice into "food speak." Physicians often don't have the time to do this — but others in health care do. They can evaluate current food selections and cooking methods and suggest healthier, affordable practices. At the very least, seniors can expect written information about diet and their medical problems. Seniors and their families should demand this.

The war on hunger is far from over. Seniors hunger for food and nutrition knowledge are significant. We all need to step up to the plate.

Hey seniors (and families with seniors) please share your food challenges and the ways you are winning the battle.

- Jennifer

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Jan. 28, 2016