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Feeding the Future

Want to Help Alleviate Our Nation’s Healthcare Woes? Nourish Seniors

Photo: Courtesy of Huy Phan

Ellie Hollander

President and CEO, Meals on Wheels America

Financial constraints play a key role in the limited access to nutritious food, but it’s not the only issue. Isolated seniors living in food deserts face the added challenge of accessing nutritious foods. Others may lack the stamina to cook a meal, have limitations with mobility or may not be feeling well enough to eat.

More than morals ​​​​​​​

Leaving seniors to languish is not only a moral issue, but the widespread lack of proper nutrition comes with a hefty price tag. Malnutrition in older adults is linked to numerous costly chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, oral disease and osteoporosis, which result in more than $51 billion in healthcare spending each year. With 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day, and the senior population projected to double by 2050, the public health challenges and healthcare spending associated with senior malnutrition and food insecurity will only intensify if not effectively addressed.

If we want to fix healthcare, we must look at the root causes of poor health and take deliberate action to prevent them. Access to nutritious food is fundamental and the clear pathway to significant healthcare savings. You can feed a senior for an entire year for the same cost as just one day in hospital or 10 days in a nursing home.

Food as medicine

To make this simple strategy a reality, we need to clear the way for medical practitioners to write prescriptions for preventative nutrition services, and for hospitals and rehab facilities to become more proactive in attending to the nutrition status of patients while admitted and upon discharge. Healthcare payers can easily accomplish this by partnering with community-based senior nutrition providers to proactively address the factors that place older adults at risk of poor nutrition and health.

It’s time to treat food as a powerful medicine — resulting in improved health outcomes for seniors and improved financial health for our country.

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