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.
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.
- Defeat Malnutrition Today is a coalition of more than 75 organizations working to improve screening, assessment, diagnosis and intervention for older adult malnutrition.
- The National Council on Aging works to improve the ability of older adults to access federal programs to improve nutrition.
- Financing for Healthy Foods, a publication developed by Capital Impact, provides an overview of how healthy food financing in low-income communities can create economic and health impacts.