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Access to Healthy Food Combats Older Adult Malnutrition

Written by Candace Robinson and Amy Herr on September 24, 2018

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Up to 1-in-2 older adults is at risk for malnutrition. Creating healthy food access can combat this.

This is part of our Fast Facts series with Capital Impact Partners and West Health that highlights how coordinated services – from healthcare to housing – can create livable, age-friendly communities that support the economic, health, and social needs of older adults.

Read the full Fast Facts series!






Up to 1-in-2 older adults are at risk for malnutrition, increasing the likelihood for negative health outcomes which often result in higher health care costs. Seniors with malnutrition are more likely to have longer hospital stays, readmissions, and falls.


Obstacles to maintaining a healthy diet vary as you age. Nutrition can be affected in part by appetite loss, oral health issues, and prescribed medications. Many older adults have limited access to healthy food due to a number of social determinants of health, including a lack of healthy food options (food deserts), food insecurity, transportation, physical or mental impairments, and diminished ability to prepare food at home.

A variety of public and private programs can help people of all ages to access healthy food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, offers nutrition assistance to eligible low-income individuals and families. However, the program is underutilized by seniors, with an estimated 3 of 5 eligible seniors not enrolled.

Senior nutrition programs providing home-delivered and congregate (communal) meals also assist seniors in accessing healthy food. Funding comes in part through the federal government using the Older Americans Act (OAA), and through public-private partnerships using private grants and donations.

Source: National Blueprint: Achieving Quality Malnutrition Care for Older Adults, Defeat Malnutrition Today

Innovative solutions

Access to healthy food establishments, markets, and programs where SNAP and other food assistance benefits are accepted is critical to creating long-term, community-based nutrition solutions. With assistance through philanthropy and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), impact investors can leverage funds to expand healthy food access for underserved individuals, including older adults. Administered by Capital Impact Partners, the Michigan Good Food Fund is a $30 million public-private partnership loan fund that provides financing and capacity building to good food enterprises working to increase access to affordable, healthy food in low-income communities in Michigan. The California FreshWorks loan and grant program provides similar financing and support to healthy food enterprises in California.

West Health recently completed a study in partnership with Meals on Wheels America and Brown University of an enhanced meal delivery service to improve senior health. In the program, delivery personnel used a mobile application to submit electronic wellness alerts when they had a concern about a client’s health or wellbeing. A trained care navigator followed up with clients to connect them with the care and support they needed to stay safe and healthy in their homes.

An evolving landscape

Emerging opportunities are expanding access to healthy food options and better health outcomes for seniors. Grocery delivery and meal kit delivery services are improving the ability of some seniors to access healthy food. HFFI broadens access to nutritious food by developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets to sell healthy food, through programs at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services. In addition, a number of regional and national Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) leverage HFFI funds to combat food deserts and expand local healthy food providers so that older adults and whole communities can access healthy, fresh food.

Socially conscious investors now have more opportunities to direct their funds toward evidence-based models that promote wellness across lifespan, maximizing impact for marginalized communities, as well as return on their investment.

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Candace Robinson  

Candace Robinson, MCED, is the Director of Strategic Aging Initiatives for Capital Impact Partners. Through capital and commitment, Capital Impact helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Capital Impact has a 35-year history delivering strategic financing, social innovation programs, and capacity building that creates social change and delivers financial impact nationwide.


Amy Herr

Amy Herr, MHS, PMP, is the Director of Health Policy for the nonprofit, nonpartisan West Health Policy Center. The Policy Center is part of a suite of West Health nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations. West Health’s mission is to enable seniors to successfully age in place, with access to high-quality, affordable health and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence.