Congregate Meals: Opportunities to Help Vulnerable Older Adults Achieve Diet and Physical Activity Recommendations
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Through diet and exercise interventions, community centers offer an opportunity to address health-related issues for some of the oldest, most vulnerable members of our society.
The purpose of this investigation is to draw upon nationwide data to better characterize the population served by the congregate meals program and to gather more detailed information on a local level to identify opportunities for service enhancement to improve the health and well-being of older adults.
We examined community center data from two sources: 2015 National Survey of Older Americans Act and surveys from two New York City community centers. To assess nationwide service delivery, we analyzed participant demographics, functional status defined by activities of daily living, and perceptions of services received.
Participants from the two New York City community centers completed a four-day food record. Functional measures included the short physical performance battery, self-reported physical function, grip strength, and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.
Nationwide (n=901), most participants rated the meal quality as good to excellent (91.7%), and would recommend the congregate meals program to a friend (96.0%). Local level data (n=22) were collected for an in-depth understanding of diet, physical activity patterns, body weight, and objective functional status measures. Diets of this small, local convenience sample were higher in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and lower in calcium, magnesium, and fiber than recommended by current United States Dietary Guidelines. Average time engaged in moderate physical activity was 254 minutes per week (SD=227), exceeding the recommended 150 minutes per week, but just 41% (n=9) and 50% (n=11) of participants engaged in strength or balance exercises, respectively.
Research is warranted to test whether improvements in the nutritional quality of food served and access/supports for engaging in strength training within community centers could help older adults achieve diet and physical activity recommendations.
Key wordsAging diet quality cognitive function physical function
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