LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – March is National Nutrition Month, a nutrition and information education campaign sponsored each year by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
For some older adults, food choices sometimes are not an option, with low-income seniors having to make painful decisions, such as spending money on medications instead of food.
No senior citizen should go hungry in our community, however, hunger among our elderly population is a growing crisis. Hunger rates have more than doubled for low-income seniors in the United States in the last few years.
In the U.S., there are over five million seniors who grapple with hunger issues, almost three million seniors who are at risk of not having enough to eat, and nearly one million seniors who go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food.
Ongoing hunger and malnutrition can cause chronic diseases that result in expensive hospitalizations and nursing home or other long-term care placements.
Thirty-eight percent of seniors dealing with inadequate food and nutrition have incomes below the federal poverty level.
In addition to the impact of poverty on hunger, several other factors come in to play, such as renting versus homeownership, age, living alone, and raising a grandchild.
Studies reveal that households supporting a grandchild are about two-and-a-half times as likely to have food shortages as households without grandchildren.
In these challenging economic times, it is not surprise that there are increasing numbers of older Americans who do not have enough to eat.
Baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011, and those between the ages of 60 to 69 have the highest risk of hunger.
Lack of proper nutrients significantly increases the chances of poor health, which not only diminishes the quality of life, but also increases utilization of health care services, early long-term care placements, and an increased risk of death.
The Area Agency on Aging supports local home-delivered meals programs in Lake and Mendocino Counties, providing over 400 meals seven days per week. Home-delivered meals are taken, often by volunteers, directly to an older adult’s residence.
Meals are delivered to these individuals because they are typically homebound due to disability, illness or geographic location. The meals are paid for by Older Americans Act funding, donations and sometimes by contributions from the individuals receiving the meals.
In 1972, the Older Americans Act added a “congregate meals” program (served at facilities such as community and senior centers). The home-delivered meals program was added in 1978.
The purposes of these programs are to:
- Promote the health and well-being of older individuals;
- Delay adverse health conditions through access to nutrition and other disease prevention and health promotion services;
- Promote socialization of older individuals.
Thanks to the contracted service partners and volunteers who provide these vital meal programs: Anderson Valley Senior Center, Highlands Senior Center, Lakeport Senior Center, Live Oak Seniors, Middletown Senior Center, Redwood Coast Seniors and South Coast Senior Center.
These organizations help reduce hunger and food insecurity for local seniors.
For more information on senior nutrition, congregate meals sites and home-delivered meal programs in your area, contact the Area Agency on Aging’s Senior Information and Assistance staff at 800-510-2020 or 707-468-5132.
Todd Metcalf is the Adult Services Program manager at the Department of Social Services for Lake County, Calif.