Proposed commission would study malnutrition among Ohio seniors

Thursday, February 18, 2016

home-delivered meals
A recent study ranked Ohio first in the Midwest and 12th nationwide for food insecurity among older adults.

A new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate would create a Malnutrition Prevention Commission to study the effects of malnutrition among older Ohioans, raise public awareness, and identify existing and new prevention efforts.

Sponsored by Senator Gayle Manning (R-District 13), SB 245 has been referred to the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

According to information gathered by the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, older Ohioans at lower socioeconomic status are at greater risk of malnutrition due to financial constraints. In a study of food insecurity among seniors, Ohio had a 26 percent increase in the number of seniors who were at risk of hunger in 2013 compared to 2012. Ohio ranked first in the Midwest and 12th nationwide for food insecurity among older adults. Food insecure seniors have lower nutrient intakes and worse health outcomes.

The Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging supports Senate Bill 245 as a way to document the problem of malnutrition among older Ohioans: study the impact across care settings; investigate effective strategies to reduce malnutrition; and monitor the influence of malnutrition on older adults’ health care costs and quality of life.

Malnutrition among older Ohioans causes adverse health outcomes and severely impairs quality of life. It results in higher health care costs because of increased avoidable hospital readmissions, increased rates of institutionalization, and exacerbated problems related to chronic conditions. Fifty percent of all diseases impacting older Americans are directly connected to lack of appropriate nutrient intake, according to a 2008 study by authors at the University of Kentucky and Iowa State University.

To begin to address the need, Ohio’s Area Agencies on Aging administer senior nutrition programs via funding from the Older Americans Act and the state’s Senior Community Services block grant. Programs include home delivered meals and congregate meals to enable older Ohioans to live at home and access to healthy, nutritious food. Funding for these programs is limited, but the need continues to grow. Wait lists or other cost saving measures exist in some areas.

In FY 2015, Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio provided more than 1.5 million meals to vulnerable older adults in a five-county region through home-delivered and congregate meals programs.

Senior nutrition programs are cost effective. For one person, it costs approximately $1,800 for one year’s worth of home-delivered meals. That same amount is less than the cost of one day in the hospital, and about the cost for seven days in a nursing facility, according to Meals on Wheels America. In one study conducted by Brown University, it was estimated that every additional $25 states spend on home-delivered meals per year, per person aged 65+ is associated with a decrease in the low-care nursing home population of one percentage point. The same study found that out of all the programs, including Medicaid-funded home and community-based services, increased spending on home-delivered meals was the only effort significantly associated with decreases in the proportion of low-care residents in nursing homes during the time period under review (2000-2009).

A Senior Malnutrition Prevention Commission would document the problem of senior malnutrition in our state and identify opportunities for public policies and prevention that could improve health and reduce health care costs.