Food security and nutrition for seniors

By Amanda McCarthy

May is National Older Americans Month. During this time, we often think about our grandparents, relatives and friends. While many seniors live healthy, active lives, there are also those who struggle to live on fixed incomes. For these people, there are difficult choices to make including whether to pay for healthcare or prescriptions and buying groceries.

Although food insecurity affects people of all ages, seniors are particularly vulnerable because they have unique nutritional needs related to aging and/or medical conditions and often have limited income. Because seniors often need medication to maintain their health, many elderly Americans must forgo the foods they need to stay healthy.

According to Feeding America’s study Hunger in America 2010, 30 percent of seniors who rely on local food pantries for help report that they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care. Among food pantry clients 65 and older, more than half reported needing food assistance on a monthly basis, the highest of any age group.

A newly published report, Spotlight on Senior Hunger, indicates that in 2011, almost one in every 12 seniors above the age of 60 in the United States was food insecure. That represents 4.8 million seniors nationwide, which is more than double the number of food insecure seniors in 2001.

The Food Bank of Yolo County provides much-needed food assistance to older adults through direct distribution programs and through our network of non-profit partner agencies. By collaborating with partners including Elderly Nutrition and Yolo County Senior Centers, the Food Bank is able to provide healthy, nutritious food to older clients who need it most.

According to Health in Aging, malnutrition is increasing among the older population. This can lead to fatigue, anemia, infections, and skin problems. Eating healthy, nutritious foods can help. Studies show that a good diet in later years reduces the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Here are a few tips for eating well as an older adult:

* Choose foods with Vitamin B12, including fortified cereals to help your brain, blood, and nervous system
* Eat foods with Vitamin D, including salmon, tuna, and fortified orange juice to promote bone health
* Reduce your salt intake to control blood pressure
* Eat breakfast and do not skip meals
* Choose high fiber foods to keep you healthy and regular
* Eat fruits and vegetables – fresh, canned, or frozen

With widespread community support, the Food Bank is working to ensure that seniors in need have access to nutritious food, including fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are interested in assisting with this effort, visit www.foodbankyc.org to find out how to host a food drive, volunteer, or provide other support.

Learn more about health and nutrition for seniors by visiting www.nutrition.gov/life-stages/seniors or www.healthinaging.org.

Read the Spotlight on Senior Hunger 2011 report put together by Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger at http://feedingamerica.org/seniorspotlight.

— Amanda McCarthy is the director of programs for the Food Bank of Yolo County

Special to The Enterprise

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