AHS offers nutrition programs for older adults to eat healthy

An elderly couple enjoys a meal
Photo of new AHS Director Tim Wholf

By: Tim Wholf

Senior Nutrition Month is an annual nutrition education and information campaign organized by the Administration of Community Living’s Administration on Aging.

Since 1972, the national Senior Nutrition Program has supported nutrition services for older adults across the country. Funded by the Older Americans Act, local programs serve as hubs where people 60+ find healthy meals and other vital services that strengthen social connections and promote well-being.

The campaign, celebrated each year during the month of March, focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

The theme for Senior Nutrition Month 2023 is "Cooking Up Community." The theme pairs one of the most prominent elements of the program – food – with one of its most important aspects – community. Through the national program, local providers serve, build and better their communities through meals, social connections, educational programming and so much more.

Good nutrition across the lifespan helps prevent chronic disease, however, it’s never too late to make improvements to support healthy aging. Older adults are at greater risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer – as well as health conditions related to changes in muscle and bone mass. This population can mitigate some of these risks by eating nutrient-dense foods and maintaining an active lifestyle.

Health.gov reports older adults generally have lower calorie needs. This is often due to less physical activity, changes in metabolism or age-related loss of bone and muscle mass. Nutrient needs in this population are also affected by chronic health conditions, use of multiple medicines and changes in body composition.

Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy improves diet quality as does cutting down on added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Eating enough protein helps prevent the loss of lean muscle mass.

Older adults often eat too little protein, especially adults ages 71 and older. Most older adults are meeting recommendations for meats, poultry and eggs, however, seafood, dairy and fortified soy alternatives, beans, peas and lentils are also great sources of protein. These protein sources also provide additional nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and fiber.

The ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease with age and with the use of certain medicines. Health professionals can help older individuals consume enough B12 through foods such as breakfast cereals.

Sometimes it’s hard for older adults to drink enough fluids.

Drinking enough water is a great way to prevent dehydration and help with digestion. Unsweetened fruit juices and low-fat or fat-free milk or fortified soy beverages can also help meet fluid and nutrient needs.

There are a number of available resources within Johnson County to support older adults in accessing and achieving a healthy dietary pattern. The Department of Aging and Human Services has seven congregate nutrition centers where individuals 60+ can obtain a healthy meal. The agency also provides Home-Delivered Meals to older adults who are homebound. Individuals 60+ can also participate in the CHAMPSS program where they can obtain a meal at a participating Hy-Vee or IHOP.

For information on these programs, call 913-715-8861. Individuals may also be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the Kansas Department for Children and Families or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Tim Wholf is director of the Johnson County Department of Aging and Human Services.