Wellness by Design

We may think of those persons over the age of 65 as comfortable Grandmas and Grandpas who welcome us home and offer great meals. The reality is that one third (34%) of seniors in Canada suffer malnutrition (Stats Canada). That means that one in three of the folks in your community who are in their senior years are either not getting enough to eat or are not eating the right foods.

The subject was flagged by UK PhD researcher and Nuffield Farming Scholar Barbara Bray. As her research in Healthy Aging Nutrition is emerging, she offers some very interesting perspectives behind older adult malnutrition.

Bray explains that food information and marketing has always been focused on the young. I think of the expectant mother who must follow a strict diet to ensure fetal and then infant health. As child grows, there are books and health advisors to guide parents and we later on we know that teenagers need fuel by the bushel and middle agers are discouraged from the cookie jar. And though the Canada Food Guide and most provinces have excellent resources regarding what you should eat for those over the age of 50 or 55, the gap was in finding guidance that was nutrition specific to the age demographic of 65 years and over.

In the grocery store the shelves are stocked according to the market that spends the most. When a parent comes in, most everything of high caloric content is marketed to that demographic and the more quantity of an item, the less expensive it is. You may have to lean over the meat counter but cookies are prominent at eye level. For the person who can only afford to buy or to carry a little at a time, food shopping can be relatively expensive and often does not solve the problem of accessing nutrition.

How about eating out? While the world is moving fast, some seniors prefer to slow down. They would like to sit and enjoy the experience of food but everything from the menu to the chairs, the lighting to the service, is designed for speed and an entirely different demographic. Even the raised threshold at the door can prevent a senior from getting the food they need if in a wheelchair or unable to lift their feet. Those long tables where meals and conversation were shared are now noticeably absent and sitting alone surrounded by empty chairs is an acceptable norm. There is an element of loneliness and this is suppressing to the appetite. Eating alone with a smaller ‘seniors’ portion of fish and chips is not stimulating and simply less of the same high carb diet and does not address balance or texture.

While urban and rural policies and school programs often offer the opportunity for every child to be fed, the same commitment does not apply to aged adults, especially those living in their own homes. In Canada, 2.38 million seniors are not getting the daily nutritional needs they require and yet our farmers produce more than enough for all ages of Canadians. Everyone has a right to eat.

The finality of the producer’s engagement in nutrition does not need to stop at the farm gate. As part of a moral economy there is an opportunity to ensure that there is access to food for the lifespan of our citizens.

The fight for fair food access begins in the field and it is carried right through to our forks. Industry and sector associations are encouraged to be inclusive of all stakeholders in the food chain in considering their long-term planning and to be comfortable in asking tough questions like: How will this commodity be used to benefit all within the food system? How are you as a manufacturer preventing waste or repurposing the food I grow? Food service in every form could focus on nutrient dense meals, accessible establishments, readable menus and attention to floor plans. Grocery totally needs to change from the model of multi-nationals owning the prominent and accessible shelf to shared space designed for healthy living.

There is no reasonable justification for one third of seniors suffering malnutrition. Bray’s presentation about healthy aging unearthed something powerful for me. I see a missed opportunity in wellness by design – in fully engaging in societal nutritional needs with a primary focus on a culture of care for the whole of our lives.

Brenda Schoepp
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