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Improving Nutrition Education in Elderly Nutrition Programs by Using the USDA Technical Paper: Nutrition Education For Older Adults: A Review of Research(1)

This technical paper provides valuable information and suggestions for nutrition project professionals and consultants to improve nutrition education approaches and more effectively reach older adults. The authors have summarized the available information in an uncomplicated and easy-to-read manner while noting that relatively little has been published addressing effectiveness of nutrition education for elders.

The literature review provides a theoretical context regarding nutrition education. In addition, there are synopses of several studies that address the effectiveness of nutrition education. Finally, helpful suggestions are offered to better reach adult learners. Some suggestions include experiential learning components and targeting messages to defined segments of the older adult population.

Older Americans Act (OAA) program providers can use the reviews and suggestions in this technical paper to refine the nutrition education messages and delivery mechanisms to more appropriately meet the learning needs of their elderly clients. Elders are known to be an eager audience for health information and tend to be active in community health promotion programs. Therefore, nutrition education programs or projects should be well received by this population especially if they are tailored to their needs.

This technical paper will serve as a review for many nutrition project professionals and consultants. They should be able to glean concepts and ideas to enhance and improve nutrition education and then design programs or share suggestions with individual project personnel.

Good suggestions for improving the effectiveness of nutrition education are:

  • Include elder focus groups in the planning stage to explore
    • needs,
    • interests, and
    • ways to make the program useful.
  • Provide interactive opportunities
    • to facilitate adult interactive involvement in learning, and
    • to promote active learning through experience / practice.
  • Segment and target elders by
    • age,
    • demographics,
    • functional abilities, and
    • physically suitable activities.
  • Provide continuity and feedback.

Nutrition education must also be culturally appropriate. A "one size fits all" program is not usually effective. To target different segments, use print and broadcast media, nutrition contests, table tents in the dining room, group nutrition education classes, clinic based programs, nutritious potluck dinners, etc. Other innovative approaches include nutrition-through-gardening and computerized programs. Many ideas and suggestions could be successfully implemented with various groups, including home-delivered and congregate meal clients.

A few early studies using the Nutrition Screening Initiative materials are reviewed and unfortunately do not demonstrate the full potential of incorporating nutrition screening and awareness into learning programs. However, projects interested in developing nutrition screening and awareness programs can use many learning methods described in the paper.

All in all, this review is clear, concise and full of useful information and suggestions that can be adopted to improve nutrition education in projects and programs serving diverse segments of the elder population.

1. Maloney SK, White SL. Nutrition education for older adults: A review of research. Alexandria, VA: US Dept of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Service, Office of Analysis and Evaluation. September 1994.

Reviewed by Carmen Brain and Dian Weddle 4/96

The National Policy and Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging was established under the federal Administration on Aging Nutrition/Malnutrition Initiative to reduce malnutrition and improve food security among American elders. The Center works with the AoA to provide national leadership in Aging and Nutrition Networks by placing food and nutrition services in the mainstream of home and community based social, health and long-term care delivery systems serving elders. Reflecting national cost containment trends, the Center is dedicated to (1) risk-based outreach to serve the most nutritionally needy elders, (2) expansion of nutrition services in aging programs to reduce malnutrition, and (3) multidisciplinary nutrition care management to improve quality of life, promote independence, and decrease early nursing home admissions and hospitalizations. The Center develops, collects and disseminates information, such as this review of the USDA technical paper Nutrition Education for Older Adults: A Review of Research, and trains nutrition and aging providers.

Nancy S Wellman, PhD, RD, FADA, Director Dian O Weddle, PhD, RD, FADA, Associate Director.

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National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity & Aging
| Florida International University, OE 200, Miami, FL 33199
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