Since 2011, Baby Boomers, a population with unique health, economic, and nutritional needs, are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Disease prevention strategies to live a quality life with a myriad of health concerns are important life skills. In urban areas, low-income senior housing complexes are increasing rapidly. A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) assessment found low income or affordable senior housing units increased in Alameda County at a rate of 22.66% from 2016 to 2018 (8,640 and 10,598 respectively).
Very few nutrition or wellness education programs are available at the housing sites. UC ANR researchers found elders in low-income senior housing at greater risk for food insecurity and higher likelihood of nutrition and lifestyle related diseases. Forty percent of seniors in 21 housing sites lived with multiple nutrition and lifestyle related diseases as well as dealing with diseases of another family member.
Food-borne illness is higher and knowledge retention lower than younger adults – increasing disease vulnerability. UC ANR launched a senior-friendly program in 2018, teaching healthy nutrition, smart shopping skills, physical activity, safe food handling and gardening. The short-term goal was to test the viability of wellness programs based in senior housing, and to determine if it helped reduce social isolation.
The Nutrition and Wellness Program launched in 2018 operates at seven sites that house 624 seniors in all. Interested seniors completed 213 baseline Health and Well-being Checklists, 183 Food Behavior Checklists, and 199 Garden Assessments. Participation was high - 150 seniors - for nutrition/wellness education classes presented by UC CalFresh Healthy Living staff using the Eat Smart and Being Active curriculum.
After 25 UC Master Gardner trainings and gardening maintenance activities, 110 seniors planted gardens plots, more than tripling previous plots, and 120 planted container herb gardens for the first time. Another 80 attended classes on safe food handling using UC ANR's materials - Make Food Safe for Seniors. Participation rates suggest program viability and potential sustainability, pre-assessments established baseline data for a medium-term evaluation of knowledge gain/retained, behavior change, and to capture self-perception of change in emotional, cognitive, physical, and social health status.