UCCE Alameda’s summer program encouraged low income elders to eat healthy and stay active

The Issue

The defining demographic trend of the 21st Century is the rapid increase in the number of seniors 65 and over in the United States and particularly those 85 and over. The number of seniors over 65 in California is increasing at a rate greater than overall population. Baby Boomers began to come of age in 2011, accelerating the rate at which California’s population is turning gray. By 2030, the over-85 population is expected to grow by 150 percent in 38 California counties, by 200 percent in 26 and by 300 percent in 11 counties. These demographics are coupled with an increase in nutrition- and lifestyle-related chronic conditions, such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Chronic diseases are systemic - 80 percent of seniors in the U.S. have at least one and 50 percent have two (CDC). Among Californians over 65, 54 percent suffer from hypertension, 24 percent heart disease, 17 percent with cancer, 15 percent diabetes and 10 percent asthma (CDA). An ANR study found that 40 percent of low-income elders from 22 senior sites (n=377) were living with multiple chronic conditions - many with more than four. Educational programs to promote healthy nutrition/lifestyles could contribute to a better quality of life of California's vulnerable elders.

What Has ANR Done?

The rise in chronic nutrition- and lifestyle- related conditions associated with longer lives present challenges and opportunities for UC Cooperative Extension educators. ANR acknowledged the significance of emerging senior concerns in a 2010 special issue of California Agriculture journal, "The Golden State Goes Gray: What Aging Will Mean for California." As part of its long-term Quality of Life Initiative, UCCE Alameda County partnered with the Alameda County Social Services Agency to conduct a "Staying Healthy" program for multi-ethnic elders living in low-income senior housing. Interactive nutrition education was conducted at six sites in north, west and south county. Farmers markets provided fresh produce at each class site. Baseline and exit food behavior data evaluated showed positive change in healthy food choices, food safety and physical activity. Focus groups assessed positive behavior changes seniors had made to stay healthy.

The Payoff

Seniors get moving to stay healthy

Of the 267 senior participants, 247 graduated with 6 to 7 hours of education. More than 200 seniors wrote their personal Staying Healthy stories to share with other elders. Pre/post food behavior evaluations found positive changes over baseline for seniors: being more active 98 percent, drinking more water 97 percent, handling food safer 80 percent; and increasing vegetable and fruit intake 70 percent. Exit focus groups found seniors wanted more nutrition/wellness education and mini farmers markets on site. Social Services funding for the project was $87,777. The president of Alameda County Board of Supervisor’s, a long-time supporter of programs for elders, was the graduation speaker at one site. Housing agencies managing low-income senior housing in three counties have requested similar nutrition and wellness education programs.

Clientele Testimonial

"Staying Healthy for Seniors has motivated me to eat healthy, use small plates, drink more water, eat more vegetables and fruits, portion control, and exercise. Thank you so much."


Supporting Unit: Alameda County

Mary L. Blackburn, NFCS Advisor
University of California Cooperative Extension
(510) 639-1274 or mlblackburn@ucanr.edu