Nutrition assistance programs for the elderly are failing, federal report says

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Federal guidelines for nutritional programs fail to adequately address the needs of elderly adults, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study done in  Michigan and three other states. 

The report called for more oversight over nutritional guidelines for seniors at a time when the state is getting older. By 2030, one in five Michigan adults will be over 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response to the report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it intends to incorporate the unique needs of older adults into its guidelines but doesn’t have written plans yet to do so. 

Sherri King, the nutrition service program leader for Aging and Adult Services in the state Department of Health and Human Services, says that registered dietitians under her supervision haven’t expressed concerns about the current dietary guidelines. 

“I am very confident in their skill levels to meet the changing dietary needs,” King said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, most older adults have conditions associated with bad nutrition like diabetes or heart diseases. 

The need to address nutrition guidelines and programs will grow in the coming years because of the rising age of Michigan residents, according to the U.S. Census.

The GAO, a nonpartisan Investigative arm of Congress, did the study in Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana and Vermont to examine how federal nutrition guides address older adults’ needs, how these guidelines are overseen; and the challenges programs face in meeting their nutritional needs. 

GAO staff visited Evart, Baldwin, Grandville, Detroit and Troy as part of the study, according to Kathryn Larin, the lead staffer on the report and a director in GAO’s Education, Workforce and Income Security Team.  

Although the nutritional needs of older adults can be different than for younger ones, guidelines for them produced by the federal government are similar to those given to much younger individuals, according to the report. 

Lynn Cavett, the supervisor for child and adult food programs at the state Education Department, explained that the only difference in nutrition guidelines for the elderly is that “portions are larger and they are able to substitute milk for yogurt.”

Many adult care centers in Michigan use Meals On Wheels to provide food service for the elderly. 

Erica Snyder, the nutritionist for Lansing-based Senior CommUnity Care of Michigan, has been using the service since 2015 and said the service follows the nutrition guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Overall, Snyder said, beneficiaries’ response to the service is “generally positive.”

Many counties now have almost 30% of their populations over the age of 65, Census data shows.

Alcona County residents are the oldest on average in the state, and the nine others with the highest average ages are in the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the rising average age of Michigan residents, the demand for programs that feed the elderly or disabled while their caregivers work is still low, according to the Education Department’s Cavett, who oversees the state’s six facilities offering these type of services.

Cavett says that the goal for the upcoming year is to “push to find more adult care programs to come in and use our facilities and resources.” 

One reason Cavett pointed to for the lack of interest in such programs is the willingness of younger people to take responsibility for their elders.

USDA does provide some details to help programs ensure meeting the needs of special cases, like individuals with diabetic problems, according to the GAO report. 

The report said many food service providers feel that more constant sf interaction with the USDA and more detailed meal plans for the elderly would be helpful. 

: 10 counties with the highest proportion of residents 65 or older. Source: U.S. Census Bureau. —

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