Kate Thiele – Meals on Wheels Australia & Melanie Parker – PHAA
As people move through life, nutrition requirements change. This is pertinent for older Australians (70 years +), where poor nutrition can have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing, particularly through malnutrition and other associated health problems.
Lack of proper nutrition advice and dietary guidelines can negatively influence the health system and cause economic burden. Currently, there are no tailored dietary guidelines for older Australians, even though there are clear Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs), updated in 2017, which list specific nutrient recommendations for older Australians. This opacity created from a lack of dietary guidelines makes it difficult for older Australians to meet their recommended NRVs, by creating confusion and therefore, burden on an already-stretched health and aged care system, who are often making these meals, snacks, and beverages. Inadequate and inappropriate food intake leads to malnutrition.
This is clearly a common story occurring around Australia, with the Nutrition for Older Australians Alliance, consisting of Meals on Wheels Australia, Dietitians Australia, Nutrition Australia, Maggie Beer Foundation and the Public Health Association of Australia, writing in a pre-budget submission that,
“Malnutrition in aged care in Australia is estimated to cost the Government approximately $9 billion per annum and to increase care costs by a factor of two to three.”
Additionally, the Alliance, led by Meals on Wheels Australia, wrote that a significant portion of “older people living in the Australian community are either malnourished or at risk of malnutrition.”
Clear solutions developed by the Nutrition for Older Australians Alliance
The Nutrition for Older Australians Alliance, made up of five peak organisations, have provided clear solutions to this malnutrition concern in their 2022 Federal Budget Submission to the Australian Treasury. The Alliance outlined two steps to achieve better nutrition for people aged over 70 years old, who live in Australia:
- Fund the development of a specific set of Dietary Guidelines for over 70 years of age, drawing on revised Nutrient Reference Values for people over 70 years.
- Fund successful public education, implementation support, monitoring and evaluation of the Dietary Guidelines for older Australians, over 70 years.
Modest funding for large improvements in nutrition
The cost of recommendation one is $2.5 million, a modest expense compared to the total annual health budget spend of the Australian Government, which in 2019-20, was $81.8 billion. This tailored spending on Dietary Guidelines for older Australians is absolutely vital, due to the significant differences in nutrition required by this age group, for example, in general:
- Older Australians require more protein to maintain protective muscle mass.
- Older Australians require more calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin (vitamin B2) to maintain bone strength.
- Older Australians require adequate amounts of energy (calories/kilojoules) to prevent unintentional weight loss when a person has a reduced appetite.
The modest annual $2.5 million expense required for recommendation two should be targeted towards raising awareness in older Australians on appropriate nutrition through:
- Public health campaigns
- Community support programs
- Systems level initiatives promoting healthy eating and other healthy behaviours for people aged over 70
- Scoping the ongoing costs for monitoring and evaluation of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, including dietary guidelines for people aged over 70.
These recommendations have been urgently requested, due to the current dearth of education being provided on, and awareness raised of, the importance of appropriate food and nutrition in older Australians. We expect that implementing these recommendations will result in better health and wellbeing for older Australians and reduced economic burden on the Australian health system, providing a double benefit to the Federal Government.
Clearly, we should all be united in preventing anyone’s parent, grandparent, sibling, relative or friend, from being at risk of, or suffering from, malnutrition, no matter where they live.
This blog is based on the submission to the Federal Government by the Nutrition for Older Australians Alliance: Priorities for the 2022 Federal Budget.
Kate Thiele is the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels Australia. The Nutrition for Older Australians Alliance consists of Meals on Wheels Australia, Dietitians Australia, Nutrition Australia, Maggie Beer Foundation and the Public Health Association of Australia.