May is Older Americans Month, sponsored by the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living. The 2018 theme is Engage at Every Age. This theme emphasizes that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, which are three of the seven dimensions of wellness. It also celebrates the many ways in which older adults make a difference in our communities, which touches on the professional and vocational dimension of wellness.
The Older Americans Month theme of Engage at Every Age is highly relevant to older adult nutrition. Older adults (and their caregivers) can take charge of their nutritional health and make a difference in their own care. Healthy eating can make a difference in older Americans' health, improve how they feel, and encourage a sense of well-being. In fact, the National Institute on Aging comments in its resources on healthy eating that "maintaining a healthy weight and getting needed nutrients is one of the most important things you can do for healthy aging."
There are several ways to support Older Americans Month and highlight good nutrition, including:
- Interviewing community members who exemplify what it means to Engage at Every Age.
- Asking your social media followers to share their wisdom, tips, and stories online about nutrition and healthy aging-either using a unique hashtag or by posting to a page or forum you manage. You can use the #OAM18 hashtag as well.
- Hosting a community event is a terrific way to celebrate Older Americans Month and educate older adults on good nutrition:
- Host a Celebratory Event: Invite community members to a special event celebrating Older Americans Month, such as a group meal.
- Host a Volunteer Event: Plan a day or half-day gathering for older adults who want to give back to others in their community-options include collecting donations of healthy food, working in a soup kitchen, or delivering meals to those in need.
- Host an Educational Event: Coordinate a resource fair, class, workshop, or lecture on healthy aging and nutrition.
Not sure where to start in learning about older adult healthy nutrition? Take a look at the USDA MyPlate for Older Adults here for some suggestions, including a fact sheet with healthy eating tips for seniors. Experts from Tufts remind us that "getting older creates obstacles to eating well at the very time that it's most important to do so" and highlight some of the specialized nutrition initiatives that are helping older adults get the nutrition they need to help prevent and intervene for malnutrition.
Another way to support Older Americans Month is to encourage older adults to enroll in the government nutrition programs for which they are eligible. While some U.S. federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly called food stamps) may be commonly recognized, only about 2 in 5 eligible older Americans currently enroll. Other programs are less well-known, like the U.S. Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) which provides 700,000 low-income adults age 60+ each year with monthly shelf-stable, nutrient rich foods. The Defeat Malnutrition Today Coalition, whose members include ICAA, is joining with others to advocate for the Nourishing Our Golden Years Act (S.2085) introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The Act will add flexibility to the CSFP certification period to better serve older adults and help meet their nutrition needs to support active aging.
Meredith Ponder Whitmire, Policy Director, Defeat Malnutrition Today
Learn more about Older Americans Month here on the Administration for Community Living website and get ideas for activities and social media content. Also search the hashtag #OAM18 on Twitter and Facebook for more information and to see what others are doing to celebrate this month.