Good nutrition is vital to being healthy and active at any age

05/27/2014 5:13 PM

06/03/2014 3:51 PM

Spring cleaning isn’t just for getting our homes and our yards in order. It’s also the perfect time for seniors, and their loved ones, to learn more about healthy foods, improve their diets and, if necessary, reach out for help.

Fortunately, making healthy food choices just got a little easier. The Food and Drug Administration has updated the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods for the first time in 20 years. This is good news for Americans 68 and over, who rely on these labels more than any other age group, with about 57 percent reading nutrition labels all or most of the time when shopping.

For seniors, good nutrition is important for maintaining a healthy immune system and avoiding chronic health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and bone loss.

Unfortunately, some seniors lose interest in eating because their senses of taste or smell have changed, they have difficulty chewing or digesting, or they are taking medications that inhibit their appetites. Others may eschew nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables in favor of processed or pre-packaged convenience foods — or skip meals all together — because they live alone and don’t see the point in cooking for one or find it difficult to prepare a home-cooked meal. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, nearly 30 percent of non-institutionalized seniors live alone, and almost half of women over 75 live alone.

In addition, seniors may lack the mobility, transportation or financial resources to shop for healthy foods. In fact, nearly one in eight Kansas adults 60 and over lack consistent access to adequate food, according to United Health Foundation’s 2013 America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report.

Thankfully, help is available. Seniors with low or fixed incomes may qualify for federal programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program or the Emergency Food Assistance Program, that provide financial assistance for food. Some state and local agencies may provide meal delivery services or transportation to people who have difficulty getting to the grocery store.

For more information about nutrition assistance programs in your community, contact the Eldercare Locator, a service of the Administration on Aging, at 1-800-677-1116.

Remember, although it’s not always easy, getting proper nutrition is important to staying physically and mentally healthy as we get older. Please take some time to consider how you or an older loved one might be able to get better nutrition and stay healthy and active at any age.

Tony Sun is market medical director for UnitedHealthcare – Heartland States.

To submit an As I See It piece, send 600 words to Grace Hobson at ghobson@kcstar.com.

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