Washington, D.C.—In 2014, more than 10 million Americans age 60 and older experienced food insecurity. Approximately half of older adults are at risk or already are malnourished, and food insecurity is estimated to result in more than $51 billion in excess health care expenditures annually. Yet, research shows that appropriate nutrition in seniors promotes better health outcomes from reducing falls and diabetes to improving mobility and cardiovascular function.
Senior nutrition was the focus of a hearing in the Senate Aging Committee today. The hearing, led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member, examined the importance of proper nutrition for seniors, public health perspectives on food security and hunger in seniors, and the challenges that arise with changing demographics. It also highlighted the work done by various public and private programs aimed at providing proper nutrition for seniors.
“Seniors in Maine and across the nation are increasingly finding themselves forced to choose between buying food and paying essential bills,” said Senator Collins. “Federal programs that help keep food banks stocked and meals delivered to seniors play a critical role, as do private partners. As Americans grow older, proper nutrition will become even more critical to maintaining long and healthy lives.”
“Far too many older Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. And that is just wrong. They should not struggle in their golden years for something as basic as the security of knowing they will be able to eat and that the food will be nutritious,” Senator Casey said. “Programs that provide nutritional assistance, like SNAP and senior food boxes, help seniors stay healthy, free up resources to pay for other necessary expenses, and can lower health care spending.”
Without adequate access to nutritious foods, older adults are at an increased risk for poor physical and mental health outcomes. With targeted nutrition programs, however, the health outcomes for older Americans can be improved.
Elizabeth Pratt, Program Manager of the Maine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program (SNAP-Ed) at the University of New England, testified on the importance of teaching seniors to shop, cook, and eat healthy meals on a budget. She explained how the program complements SNAP this way: “SNAP gives a family a fish, while SNAP-Ed teaches a family to fish.” SNAP-Ed has reached more than 3,000 seniors in Maine through integrated programs in rural and urban adult training sites, grocery stores, elderly service centers, public housing sites, and churches.
Pat Taylor of Penn Hills, PA, testified that programs like Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CFSP), which she and her husband rely on, are vital to ensure proper nourishment in a time of life where costs are rising. She spoke about her own experience, saying, “As we have gotten older, our health care costs have taken up a greater share of the bills, and we were forced to struggle because of our healthcare expenses… It was not easy to ask for help with our food expenses. When talking with other adults in our age bracket, we learned about a food pantry in our neighborhood.”
Two researchers provided expert testimony on the importance of making senior nutrition a priority. Dr. Connie Bales of the Duke University School of Medicine shed light on a new trend in malnutrition: the obesity epidemic. She testified, “contrary to what people may believe, being overweight or obese does not correspond with over-nutrition. In fact, obesity is a marker of malnutrition.” Almost 40 percent of older Americans are obese, and if trends continue, we will face a major crisis. Dr. Seth Berkowitz of Harvard Medical School explained how the impact is tremendous – malnutrition and food insecurity cost our health care system billions and ultimately increase mortality by approximately 30 percent. Medically tailored meals, however, have the potential to save money – an average of $6,500 annually in a single individual and more importantly, to significantly improve health care outcomes. Dr. Berkowitz, testified that expanding food security and nutrition programs for seniors “will promote healthy aging and improve the public’s health.”
Click HERE to read the witnesses’ testimonies.