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Starving in a Land of Plenty

Starving in a Land of Plenty

Starving people are only found in the developing world, right? Wrong. The elderly lady living next door to you in 21st century New Zealand could also be undernourished. Not only is this a bad look for our supposedly civilised country, but it’s expensive too. Longer, more frequent hospital admissions lands the Government with an increasingly larger health bill.

At a recent gathering of local and international experts, British gastroenterologist, Dr Mike Stroud, told delegates malnutrition cost the UK £7.3 billion in 2005; probably more today. He urged New Zealand to introduce regular nutrition screening in care homes and in the community. A UK study showed screening led to a £600 reduction in care costs per person, plus a 30% reduction in hospital admissions and a 58% decrease in the length of stay for those who were admitted.

With a recent study here in Christchurch finding over 50% of older people at high risk of malnutrition, action now is essential. Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Health’s ‘Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Older People’, currently under review, are likely to include a new focus on frailty in our seniors. This is welcome news for specialist dietitian, Julian Jensen, Chair of the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation’s Committee for Healthy Ageing. “We are delighted the Ministry is addressing frailty,” says Mrs Jensen. “Older age is a time when nutritional needs must be reviewed ensuring people continue to live full and healthy lives. Based on Dr Stroud’s UK figures, we could be saving a significant number of preventable deaths each year by treating malnutrition – it is reversible.”

Mrs Jensen and other specialist dietitians presented their research and expertise at the ‘Nutrition risk in older people: making meals matter’ seminar in Christchurch. Their top tips for fighting malnutrition included raising awareness amongst care givers as a crucial first step. This alone, they suggested, helps motivate older people make positive changes to their eating habits. Small, simple goals such as a milk pudding here or ten minutes longer over a meal there can make the difference between enough and not. The Government has made a commitment to supporting older people through its Positive Ageing Strategy. Maybe now is the time to add a goal ‘to provide a secure and adequate food supply.’


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