New links between food access and risk of malnutrition for older people

Published: 15 October 2019

School of Education researchers and the charity Food Train find older people at risk of becoming underweight and malnourished

New research has highlighted that food insecurity - a measure of the availability of food and individuals' ability to access it - is putting older people in Scotland at risk of becoming underweight and malnourished.

The ongoing study from the University of Glasgow and the Scottish charity Food Train is focused on the current issues facing older adults and food access. The research reveals that barriers such as loneliness and the changing nature of the high street are leading to a lack of reliable access to healthy and nutritious food - and that this is having a detrimental impact on physical health.Graphic for Eat Well Age Well UofG research

The research has found that many older people report finding cooking at home more challenging, often relying on cold and convenience food or eating less than they used to.

Malnutrition and under-nutrition rates for older adults are reported to be as high as 1 in 10. Whilst malnutrition in older people is preventable, it has often been overlooked in response to more dominant public health messages surrounding diet and obesity. The research calls for a rethink of how we understand food insecurity, particularly in relation to older adults, as access to food is not simply down to financial means.

The study is being led by University of Glasgow Psychologists and Lecturers Dr Kate Reid and Dr Catherine Lido. Dr Reid said: “The reasons for food insecurity and malnutrition amongst older adults living in their own home are complex and span across physical, psychological and social factors. It reflects a changing society where families live further away, where you may not always know your neighbour and where your high street may no longer look familiar or stock the basic food items that sustain health and wellbeing.”

The release of the research findings have been timed to coincide with UK Malnutrition Awareness Week 14 – 20 October, 2019. Food Train’s “The Eat Well Age Well” project is leading the campaign in Scotland and aims to destigmatise views around malnutrition by encouraging better communication with older people about eating well in later life.

Eat Well Age Well Project Manager Laura Cairns said: “Malnutrition can be an off-putting word but by starting conversations about food, appetite, and cooking with the older people in our lives we can help identify and address the issues that may be preventing good nutrition. It’s clear that older people’s wellbeing is linked with both food security and social support and as a country we can do better than this.”

First published: 15 October 2019

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