February 4, 2019
Malnutrition in older adults is becoming a crisis in America – not just California
By Susannah Meyer
The Mercury News
February 4, 2019
California – and indeed the nation – faces a crisis that has loomed on the horizon for years while the state has refused to prepare.
The crisis I’m alluding to is the state’s rapidly aging population. California will have an estimated additional 4 million seniors by 2030. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates that this trend will continue for decades.
Fortunately, during election season, Gov. Gavin Newsom committed to creating a statewide master plan for aging to address the increased demand for health, food assistance and supportive services. In his Jan. 7 inauguration speech, Newsom spoke of the need to ensure seniors’ ability to retire with security and live at home with dignity.
Although it’s a large step in the right direction, the people of California need more than a commitment. As the aging demographic continues to grow, the stress on the state budget will significantly increase. To meet demand and provide needed care, Newsom must prioritize resources and follow through.
The plan should identify and address the social factors that place seniors at risk for malnutrition and other diseases. Feeding America’s “2016 State of Senior Hunger in America” reports that 1,060,304 seniors are threatened by hunger in California.
The plan should also expand home- and community-based services to ensure older adults can access proper nutrition and other supportive services they need to stay healthy and to prevent costly health complications. The United Health Foundation’s “America’s Health Rankings 2018 Senior Report” states that 36 percent of hospitalizations that are due to inadequate nutrition and/or limited social contact are preventable.
While it might be difficult to comprehend in a state of such abundance, California leads the nation in the percentage of older adults living in poverty. Consequently, access to nutritious meals will be severely limited without assistance.
Although it’s often not identified or treated, malnutrition in older adults severely impacts their ability to fight illness and infection and can result in higher mortality rates and loss of independence. As the population ages, malnutrition in older adults is becoming a crisis in America – not just California. In fact, estimates are that the federal government pays a staggering $157 billion to treat older adults’ diseases associated with malnutrition.
By implementing a comprehensive long-term master plan, Newsom can combat malnutrition effectively, lower the high costs associated with preventable health complications in older adults and reduce health disparities.
This master plan should also connect state departments and funding streams, and include a coordinated framework between nutrition, long-term care, transportation, housing and other support services. In other words, we must work together.
In 1977, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey said that one moral test for government is how it treats “those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly.” In order to meet that test, the new administration must develop, create and execute a master plan for aging that allows those in the “twilight of life” to enjoy good health and age with dignity, choice and independence.
Susannah Meyer is Community Engagement Director at Meals on Wheels Diablo Region.