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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Charity calls for step-change to tackle malnutrition among older Scots

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A Food Train and University of Glasgow study has highlighted the critical role played by third sector in identifying older age adults at risk of malnourishment and food insecurity

Greater investment is needed in community projects that address social isolation to help tackle the often hidden problem of malnutrition among older people in Scotland, a charity has said.

Food Train is leading calls for a culture change to support those at risk of malnourishment and food insecurity, saying all health and social care partnerships should provide opportunities for older people to eat, shop or cook with others.

The move is one of a series of recommendations made in a new study highlighting the need for a significant step-change in health and social care to prevent problems.

Research by the University of Glasgow’s Dr Kate Reid and Professor Catherine Lido, in partnership with Food Train’s Eat Well Age Well project, has led to a series of calls to action to improve the experience of living into older age in the area of food security, health and nutrition.

Others include a requirement for all agencies working with older people to carry out community screening for early signs of malnutrition and to recognise that poor mental health also places the older adult at risk of malnutrition and food insecurity with one in 10 older age adults in the UK reportedly exhibiting signs of malnutrition.

Details have been revealed as part of UK Malnutrition Awareness Week (5-12 October).

Access to food, lack of local shops, services and opportunities for social eating are some of the factors fuelling the problems which older people face when accessing and enjoying food - all issues exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated shielding and social distancing measures.

Food Train’s Eat Well Age Well project was founded to tackle malnutrition among older people across Scotland.

Project manager Laura Cairns said: “The problem of malnutrition among older people does not have the recognition it desperately needs. It is too often overlooked in comparison to more dominant public health messages surrounding diet and obesity. Yet this is a serious problem, faced by unacceptable numbers of people in modern Scotland. Tackling this requires a significant step-change.

“By better identifying those at risk, at an early stage, we can improve the lives of older people and reduce the financial pressures on health and social care services. 

“The findings of this report highlight the need for action that we see in Scotland’s communities, including stronger funding models which protect social care and the wider third sector.”

The report - The Role of Food Security and Malnutrition Risk with Psycosocial Indicators of Healthy Ageing in Place - recommends four key actions: 

  • Community Screening for early signs of malnutrition should be mandatory for all statutory agencies with a role in supporting older people.
  • Training on malnutrition and unintentional weight loss should be embedded into basic training for all health and social care professionals.
  • More secure investment should be made in community initiatives that address social isolation by providing befriending and opportunities for older people to eat, shop or cook with others.
  • Policy, practice and research needs to take account of the fact that food poverty and food insecurity are not the same for vulnerable older people.

Strong local high streets and services - making access to food easier - is also seen as critical, along with the role of volunteers, including befrienders, in providing life-improving social contact.

Report authors Dr Kate Reid and Professor Catherine Lido, Psychologists and Lecturers at the University of Glasgow, stated: “During Covid-19 we have witnessed how quickly food systems and access to food can be disrupted, placing previously food secure adults at increased risk of malnutrition.

“The social care sector is facing unprecedented pressure in terms of its sustainability to respond to an ageing population coupled with the magnitude of the impact of Covid-19 on recipients of services, their carers and volunteers.

“Beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring smooth access to food systems within connected communities cannot be fully released when the model for social care funding is based on short-life funding streams and precarious job security for paid staff .

“In order to create an age friendly society and to promote dignified human welfare, we need to maximise the health of all citizens in the area of food security, nutritional health and wellbeing, particularly the most vulnerable, socially isolated older adults in society.”