New GSA Data Reveals A Need to Address Malnutrition among Older Adults

The Gerontological Society of America just released its 2015 “Profiles of an Aging Society” report and summary.  And in it are some very significant nuggets around how patients and caregivers perceive, understand and respond to malnutrition. 

The survey examines:

  • Views of Americans about the importance of nutrition in achieving health goals and outcomes for older adults
  • Awareness of the signs and causes of malnutrition
  • Interest in learning more about malnutrition
  • Nutrition-related education and recommendations provided by healthcare professionals
  • Relationships between family caregivers and those for whom they provide care
  • Use of community-based nutrition programs and services
  • Views of family caregivers about the nutritional needs of their loved ones to support healthy aging at home

Here are some of the findings I found most interesting:

When it comes to thinking about good nutrition, nearly eighty percent of adults and family caregivers responded that for people in general, good nutrition means “keeping a healthy weight,” while over three-quarters say it means “eating the right about of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.”  Others that ranked highly were “making sure you eat the recommended servings of vegetables each day” and “making sure you eat the recommended servings of fruit each day.”  Less common answers included “eating three meals a day” and “not being hungry.”

When we think about the causes of malnutrition, almost ninety percent answered “not always being able to physically shop, cook, and or feed oneself.”  Eighty-five percent said that “having an illness or condition that makes you change the kid or amount of food you eat.”

These next few stats really hit home the need to connect healthcare providers with nutrition information, services and programs. 

Read these carefully:

  • Only 9 percent were referred to a dietitian/nutritionist or diabetes educator.
  • Only 7 percent received recommendations on oral nutrition supplements.
  • Only 6 percent were referred to SNAP. 
  • Only 3 percent were referred to meals at a community or senior center as well as to home-delivery meal programs like Meals on Wheels.

This is really staggering given the low SNAP participation rates among eligible older adults and simultaneously the desire for these programs and services among caregivers – nearly 30 percent of caregivers wished more older adults used home delivered meal programs; 23 percent wished for more use at community/senior center meals and nearly 30 percent wished more older adults participated in SNAP. 

Clearly there is a need to address malnutrition and food insecurity in the healthcare setting.  The link between poor nutrition and health outcomes is clear and the economic consequences of not doing so are significant. 

Thanks to GSA for letting us comment on these important findings!