While some seniors spend their retirement years fulfilling lifelong dreams, others struggle just to get the nutrition they need.
Proper nutrition is critical as people age. According to the National Institute on Aging, eating well can increase energy and may reduce the risk of certain conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer and anemia. Lack of nutrition, in contrast, can cause an increased risk of infections, and lead to poor wound healing or falls resulting from muscle weakness.
Yet, more than 5 million seniors — 11.4 percent of all seniors — experience some form of food insecurity, meaning they lack access to essential nutrition. i That number is expected to grow as Baby Boomers continue to age.
“We tend to lump all Baby Boomers all together, but they are actually a very diverse group,” said Dr. Catherine MacLean, vice president of clinical quality for WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers. “Like any other group, some are doing quite well, while others could benefit from a helping hand.”Lack of nutrition among seniors can be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of money, education and mobility. Additionally, people find that their tastes often change as they age, affecting their appetite. Others have health issues that can lead to decreased appetite or trouble eating, such as chronic illness, use of certain medications, difficulty swallowing or absorbing nutrients, or trouble chewing due to dental issues. WellPoint, which serves thousands of seniors through its affiliated Medicare plans, provides the following tips for eating properly while aging. Planning meals. Write a grocery list and don’t forget it. Before going to the store, shoppers should check their stock of staples, like flour, rice and cereal, as well as canned and frozen foods, to make sure they don’t duplicate purchases. When putting together the list, make sure to include a variety of foods from each food group. Stretching dollars. In 2010, 3.6 million people age 65 and older lived below the poverty line. ii Fortunately, there are ways for seniors to save on their grocery bill, including using coupons, signing up for a store shopping card, buying during sales and substituting generic or store brands for brand-name goods. And check those expiration dates. It’s a good idea to freeze leftovers to use them later. Throwing food away can be costly. Finally, when eating out, don’t forget to ask for senior discounts. Eating healthy. For some seniors, getting food isn’t as challenging as getting the right food. A good start toward eating healthy is buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Some people even grow their own vegetables, which saves money and adds exercise. Other tips for healthy eating include eating whole wheat or whole grain bread, pasta and cereal, trying low-fat cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese, drinking skim or 2 percent milk, replacing white rice with brown rice, and avoiding snacks and desserts. Some healthier snacks include fresh fruits, animal crackers, vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, popcorn or pretzels. When eating at restaurants, choose steamed, broiled, baked, grilled or roasted foods. Don’t overeat and take the leftovers home. Getting help. Medicare provides nutrition counseling to those with certain chronic conditions. A Medicare Advantage (MA) plan may cover similar services or even food delivery, under certain circumstances. Finally, there are community programs designed to help people secure healthy food. Unfortunately, these services are underutilized. WellPoint helps sponsor a website that connects people with these programs. Visit Benefitscheckup.org to learn about these programs and check eligibility. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health. WellPoint affiliated plans are health plans with a Medicare contract. About WellPoint, Inc. At WellPoint, we believe there is an important connection between our members’ health and well-being—and the value we bring our customers and shareholders. So each day we work to improve the health of our members and their communities. And, we can make a real difference since we have more than 36 million people in our affiliated health plans, and nearly 67 million people served through our subsidiaries. As an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, WellPoint serves members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and Wisconsin. In a majority of these service areas, WellPoint’s plans do business as Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Empire Blue Cross (in the New York service areas). WellPoint also serves customers throughout the country as UniCare and in certain markets through our Amerigroup and CareMore subsidiaries. Our 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc. subsidiary offers customers online sales of contact lenses, eyeglasses and other ocular products. Additional information about WellPoint is available at www.wellpoint.com. i Senior Hunger in the United States: Differences across States and Rural and Urban Areas, 2009. ii DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, B.D. Proctor, J. Smith. U.S. Census Bureau. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. September 2011.
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