Pilot Program Targets Senior Nutrition

A Sacramento food bank on Thursday announced it is launching a six-month-long pilot program beginning Monday to analyze how eating habits of seniors affect their health, paying particular attention to the common practice among lower-income seniors of skipping breakfast.

“Low-income seniors often don’t eat breakfast because they don’t have food, but that meal is extremely important for them,” said Eileen Thomas, executive director of the River City Food Bank in Sacramento, which is coordinating the pilot study.

“If seniors don’t have fresh stores of food, they can burn off muscle tissue and lose muscle mass,” Thomas said. “If they start to lose more than five pounds unintended, then it’s likely coming from muscle mass. Especially as people lose appetite by age, it’s a compounding problem.”

Poor muscle mass leads to weakness and a higher chance of falling. It also has been linked to increased depression, she said, and that combination of factors may lead to a premature decline in seniors’ health.

Medical teams from Sutter Health will help keep track of 80 participants in the study, evaluating them over a six-month period for a change in vital statistics (such as blood pressure) and weight.

“Many seniors suffer in silence, they don’t always have a big support network and they don’t want to burden their families,” Thomas said. “They’re more prone to be hungry and alone.”

And lower-income seniors are more likely to skip meals, she said.

“Especially by the end of the month [as money runs out], some seniors say they’re choosing to pay medical bills or pay for something as basic as toilet paper,” Thomas said.

The food program starting Monday is called the Most Important Meal program. Breakfast bags will be filled with fresh fruit, cereal, whole wheat breads, peanut butter, nutrition bars, yogurt and juice, Thomas said, and distributed weekly by Park Place Senior Living in Sacramento.

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