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National Nutrition Month—Setting a New Table: More than a Meal

October 17, 2014
Kathy Greenlee, Former Assistant Secretary for Aging and ACL Administrator

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" is as true now as it was in 360 BC when Hippocrates gave this prescription to his patients. Good nutrition promotes health and helps prevent and manage many diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. As the Older Americans Act’s largest health promotion program, the Elderly Nutrition Programs do more than just provide food. The purposes of the Elderly Nutrition Programs, which are administered by ACL, are

  • to reduce hunger and food insecurity for older individuals,
  • to promote socialization of older individuals, and
  • to promote health and well-being of older adults.

In 2012, the Elderly Nutrition Programs served more than 223 million meals to almost 2.5 million people. From 2007–2011, these programs helped provide over 1.2 billion meals. Federal funding for the Elderly Nutrition Programs is combined with non-federal sources to expand its reach. This way taxpayer dollars are stretched even beyond the federal portion, since typically states are able to increase or expand resources of between 2 to 3 dollars per every federal Older Americans Act dollar.

The Elderly Nutrition Programs has two main components: the home delivered nutrition program and the congregate nutrition program.

Home-Delivered Meals Provide More than Just Food

More than 60 percent of meals served during 2012 were home delivered, generally to a homebound, frail and/or isolated older person. Seventy percent of these individuals served by this program are more than 75 years old, and more than 60 percent rely on their home delivered meal for more than half of their total daily food intake. In addition, more than half of all nutrition program participants live alone, which in some situations means they do not have anyone checking on them. This program provides much more than food; it provides a wholesome meal plus a safety check, and sometimes the only opportunity for face-to-face contact or conversation for that day.

Congregate Nutrition Programs Provide More than a Meal

The congregate nutrition program participants are most often served in local senior centers, community centers, or places of worship. Participants receive a wholesome meal alongside the opportunity to socialize and participate in healthy aging activities. About 40 percent of meals served during 2012 were served in the congregate program. In a recent survey, 58 percent of congregate meal participants said that they rely on congregate meals for half or more of their total daily food needs and 60 percent feel the congregate meal allows them to continue living in their home.

With the older population increasing and resources shrinking, cost efficiencies are needed now more than ever. The Aging network (which includes states, area agencies on aging and, in some locales, nutrition providers) is becoming more innovative to improve efficiencies and growing more entrepreneurial in order to become more self-sustaining as they age.

During National Nutrition Month, I encourage you to reach out to a local agency that serves your community’s older members. Volunteers are always needed! Volunteering to bring a wholesome meal to a homebound person provides them with nutritious food, and it can also make you feel good too. If that meal is delivered with a smile and a sincere “How are you today?” it can make all the difference in the world to that older person.

To learn more about the Elderly Nutrition Programs, the importance of nutrition as we age, or how to find a local nutrition provider, please visit these websites:

Last modified on 06/20/2023

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