I heard a startling analysis recently based on a report published by the Meals on Wheels Research Foundation. The report titled “Senior Hunger in America 2010 An Annual Report” identifies a growing epidemic of hunger among senior citizens in the United States. The report cites several reasons for this epidemic and surprisingly identifies individuals age 60-69 as most at risk for falling victim to hunger. The tragedy of this news is the fact that it exposes the dirty laundry of our society; too many seniors do not have enough resources to live safely through retirement and despite a lifetime of productive work are falling through the safety net.
One solution to this epidemic that seems promising is to frame the problem not as an economic or class related problem, but as a health care problem. The following quote illustrates this point perfectly:
“Approximately 50 percent of all health concerns affecting older Americans are directly connected to a lack of nutrients. The cost of a year’s worth of nutritious home-delivered meals that could sustain the health and nutrition of our seniors is roughly equal to the cost of just one day in the hospital.” (from Elders in Action blog)
Imagine the impact we could have on our Medicare spending if we focused on keeping people fed properly and out of the hospital!
An innovative program designed to focus on prevention is happening right here in Saint Paul: the Healthy West 7th program. Healthy West 7th is the creation of Dr. Kate Diaz Vickery, and under the umbrella of United Family Medicine has grown from an exploratory research project into a social program in its own right.
The focus of Healthy West 7th is to create the type of community resources that keep people healthy throughout their lives, including access to nutritious food, safe activity and social connections. Currently they are focused on community gardens and healthy food preparation through a partnership with Sholom Home, the West 7th Community Center and the Mississippi Market.
One thing seems clear; as social programs are increasingly whittled away the community will have to step in to care for our neighbors. Where programs do not exist, we must find local resources, including government aid and private support to build the structures for healthy communities. Community clinics like United Family Medicine understand that the investment in healthy communities will save us money in the long run. While our busy lives may make it difficult to take part in local programs this recent report shows that we can’t afford to ignore the role of community in our lives. Whether your community is neighborhood, faith, workplace or other group getting connected to a community will keep us healthy, vibrant and safe throughout our lives.