The picture of food insecurity and malnutrition in older adults is changing. Sixty percent of older adults manage two or more chronic health conditions. They also are expected to have a higher occurrence of nutrition-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. In this rapidly growing population segment, many older adults underuse preventive services, increasing the demand for integrated support systems and raising healthcare costs. These are some of the factors that underscore the need for evidence-based food and nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels of Central Indiana.
Risk factors for food insecurity and malnutrition increase in individuals with racial/ethnic minority backgrounds, people with disabilities, those who experience social isolation, and low income communities. These risk factors are particularly important for older adults.
According to the National Institute of Health, seniors who receive standard but consistent nutritious meals show improved dietary intake, decreased rates of depression and loneliness, and higher quality of life. They have improved measures for activities of daily living, significant reductions in hospital readmission rates, and are less likely to be admitted to a nursing home or long-term care.
Food insecurity and malnutrition are also important in the management of illnesses. For example, while there is no evidence that food insecurity causes cancer, adequate nutrition is vital when undergoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. The body simply cannot respond appropriately to chemotherapy when nutrition is compromised. Similarly, adequate nutrition is needed for healing after surgery, or to recover from a broken bone sustained in a fall.
Our evidence-based program uses the food is medicine approach. After an initial prescription is received from a physician, our registered dietitians oversee the monitoring and evaluation of the medically-tailored meal plans for our clients. This integrated approach to care has many benefits for our clients including:
• Decreased risk of malnutrition
• Prevention or reversal of unintended weight loss
• Improved food security
• Decreased avoidable admissions to hospitals, nursing homes and other care settings
• Reduced hospital readmissions
While there is always more to learn, and no single study is ever definitive, when taken together, the evidence is compelling. Food insecurity, along with malnutrition and hunger, are major public health threats for older adults. Nutrition programs offer important improvements in health, healthcare use, and health spending.