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Seniorgram: More Than a Meal

Roseann MartocciaRoseann MartocciaIn the winter of 2013 and spring of 2014, Meals on Wheels America conducted a research project to evaluate various methods of meal delivery and their effectiveness. Interviews of 626 participants in eight states (Massachusetts was not a site for this project) were conducted. The study also sought to better understand the population of Meals on Wheels recipients and benefits of the program from their perspective.

The nutrition program is one of the largest Older Americans Act programs, with 40% of the appropriation providing meals service. In 2012, the home-delivered meals program, also commonly referred to as Meals on Wheels, served over 135 million meals to more than 841,000 participants across the country. The program is designed to address problems of food insecurity, encourage socialization, and promote the health and wellbeing of older persons through nutrition and nutrition-related services.

Over the years, federal, state, and local funding cuts along with increased food and transportation costs have resulted in many programs cutting back, using waiting lists, and, as a result, reducing both the number of people served and total meals provided. LifePath has been fortunate not to restrict meals served through Meals on Wheels due in large part to the financial support and contributions of our community.

Robert WheelerThe study used a randomized control trial of home-delivered meals programs with sites in Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Rhode Island through surveys and interviews. All participants were on waiting lists and divided into three groups. Group 1 began receiving a daily, traditional meal delivery; Group 2 received frozen, once weekly meal delivery; and Group 3 (control group) remained on the waiting list.

Key findings of the randomized control trial research included the following conclusions. The study suggested that daily delivery of meals eases older adults’ worries about their ability to age in place, thereby providing a sense of security and confidence. The study also found that daily, delivered meals decrease the likelihood of falling among individuals with a history of falls. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that fear of falling may constitute an important risk factor for unnecessary restriction of activity that can lead to greater disability, decreased social activity, and ultimately reduced ability to live independently. The study findings also suggest that participants who receive daily, delivered meals feel safer in their homes. Feeling safe is an emotional state and includes factors such as trust, knowing, control, and hope. Further research to quantify and better understand this finding is needed.

The More Than a Meal Pilot Research Study was produced by Meals on Wheels America and conducted by Brown University through a grant provided by AARP Foundation. Go to www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/theissue/facts-resources/more-than-a-meal for more information.