“Seniors that are malnourished are weaker, have less functionality and more hospital admissions,” said Dr. Lauri Wright, assistant professor in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health. “It’s not a good course.”
As an advocate of the Older Americans Act, Dr. Wright decided it was time to gather more tangible data on the impact of home-delivery meal programs for the elderly to prove its importance to legislators.
Wright and Lauren Vance, alumna of the COPH who at the time was in search of a final special project topic, reached out to the Meals on Wheel (MOW) of Tampa to conduct a three month study examining the nutritional and behavioral outcomes of participants of the program.
The results of their study, “The Impact of a Home-Delivered Meal Program on Nutritional Risk, Dietary Intake, Food Security, Loneliness, and Social Well-Being,” is published in the of Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics June edition.
MOW of Tampa is a nonprofit, donation based organization serving more than 700 elderly individuals a day with a hot meal. Volunteers deliver meals at noon Monday through Friday, with frozen meals provided for the weekend.
“They [Meals on Wheels of Tampa] are doing wonderful things, but they don’t have the time nor experience to show how the program works,” Wright said. “Legislators and donors want to see numbers to prove value.”
A total of 52 newly enrolled MOW of Tampa clients participated in the research, which consisted of pre and post phone interviews.
As of result of the program, the rates of malnourished or nutritionally at risk clients dropped from 92 percent to 70 percent, with the rates of those who were already malnourished dropping from 34 percent to just 6 percent.
Clients also consumed an additional 400 calories and 20 grams of protein each day.
“As a practitioner, that’s not only statistically significant, it’s clinically significant,” Wright said. “That’s particularly important because many people when they enroll are often just getting out of a hospital or just had some kind of medical issue and they’re nutritionally run down; we’re helping them rebuild in that way.”
Social well-being increased and loneliness decreased after two months on the program.
“Many of the clients say that if it weren’t for Meals on Wheels that they wouldn’t see anyone all day,” Wright said. “That volunteer contact helps them feel connected and that someone cares; so, it’s more than just a meal.”
Wright says this research is important for public policy and the sustainability of home-delivery meal programs. She said as a result of the data obtained, MOW of Tampa was able to acquire a grant from a local business and expand the overall number of meals provided in their service area.
“It validated what we already know it our hearts,” Vance said. “We know that the food is nourishing, but when we were able to provide that data to this organization it became real and we were able to shout it to the world that the food works. We were able to eliminate food insecurity and verified everything that this organization is doing.”
A registered dietitian and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Wright plans to continue this research and carry it out for a longer period of time with a new cohort.
“It’s the beautiful marriage between the University and community and how we can help demonstrate the value of their program and in return that allows the program to use that information and expand services for the community,” Wright said. “To me, that’s public health in action. Us helping the program show its value and, in doing so, expanding the value given to seniors and the community.”
As a result of the research, Vance was able to secure the position of director of communications at MOW of Tampa upon graduating with her master’s.
She recently implemented Produce on Wheels, a free program donating a bag of fresh produce to clients once a month. A portion of the produce is donated by Feeding Tampa Bay.
The COPH and MOW of Tampa have partnered to provide volunteer opportunities to interested students. Volunteers can select a route of their choice and deliver on any day of the week that works in their schedule. To sign up, please email Ida Pagan, MOW of Tampa volunteer manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org and copy Ellen Kent, COPH volunteer coordinator, at email@example.com.
- Nov. 26 | 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. | Assist MOW of Tampa with delivery of Thanksgiving dinners.
- Dec. 19 | 10 a.m. – noon | Assist MOW of Tampa with delivery of holiday packages.
Wright, L., Vance, L., Sudduth, C., Epps, J.B. (2015). The Impact of a Home-Delivered Meal Program on Nutritional Risk, Dietary Intake, Food Security, Loneliness, and Social Well-Being. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 34, 218-227.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.