Changing Health Trajectory for Older Adults
Prema Ganganna, Ph.D., R.D,LD
Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences
Inadequate diet and lack of physical activity are the roots for many chronic diseases and disabilities that plague our older population. Approximately 35% of adults over the age of 75 have three or more chronic conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and macular degeneration/blindness. Ethnic minorities and low income populations are most at risk. Older adults fall short of meeting both nutrition (fruit, vegetable, and whole grains) and physical activity goals of Healthy People 2010. Evidence is mounting to demonstrate that approaches that are implemented in the later years can be effective in both extending life and improving quality of life. Dr. Prema Ganganna, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, and Mr. William Rice, III, Department of Mathematics, are participating in a multi-state research UDC project – “Changing the Health Trajectory for Older Adults,” with several other academic institutions across the U.S. Specifically, our University researchers are working to change the health trajectory for older adults through effective diet and activity modifications. This research supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strategic goal of improving the nation’s health and nutrition.
This current UDC project seeks to design and implement intervention strategies that will increase fruit, vegetable, and whole grain consumption in the multicultural elderly population in the District of Columbia. A motivational educational curriculum will be developed that will include recreational games and activities. This curriculum will be tested on a sample of individuals who have been identified as low consumers of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
An ancillary question will be to determine the extent to which elderly citizens provide significant nutritional care to children. A recent city ordinance, The District of Columbia Healthy Schools Act of 2010, requires that District of Columbia Public Schools and the community at large attend to the health needs of children, particularly regarding nutrition. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant number of school age children are cared for by elderly relatives. If this is the case, nutritional habits of the elderly will affect children; and interventions with the elderly should address this possibility.
Specific objectives of the UDC project are to:
- compare knowledge, priorities, and attitudes of high fruit, vegetable, and whole grain consumers with low fruit, vegetable, and whole grain consumers; and assess the effect of these cognitive and affective characteristics on food choices and consumption.
- design new, innovative, and fun filled games and activities that provide effective nutrition education.
- collect traditional recipes from the elderly, modify the ingredients and cooking methods to improve nutrition density by increasing variety and content of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- publish a recipe book with original and modified recipes that incorporates memories, stories, and cultural traditions from the elderly, providing a record of their significant life experiences.
- determine the extent to which elderly citizens provide nutritional care to children.
- network with community leaders and organizations to schedule ongoing nutrition awareness programs and food demonstrations.
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