More Than Just a Meal

May 18, 2011 - Paul Downey

Even the most skeptical contrarian would have trouble disputing the link between proper nutrition and overall health, particularly for seniors.  So why is this truism important in the cacophony that passes for debate on how to cut Federal spending and reduce the debt?

The answer is in the next linkage.  Better health allows seniors to remain independent longer. This delays or eliminates the need for higher levels of care like skilled nursing facilities.   Besides being much happier, seniors living independently have greater economic security because they do not have the burden of spending $5,000 a month or more for institutionalized care.   For seniors without personal resources, independence means that the tremendous financial burden for institutionalization is not transferred to their families or taxpayers.

The aging network in the United States serves more than 200 million congregate and home delivered meals (HDM) via the Older Americans Act.  Senior Community Centers provides 500,000 of those meals to low-income seniors living in San Diego County.  The impact of these meals is healthier seniors who are able to remain independent in their own homes at considerable cost savings to themselves and the community.   Providing senior meals is cheap insurance when compared to the exorbitantly expensive alternatives.

That is why budget proposals to cut domestic spending for the Older Americans Act to FY 2008 levels represents a false economy.   Draconian cuts to senior meals will mean significantly more unhealthy seniors who are no longer able to live independently.  The question for our elected leaders is do you want to make an investment in the health and wellbeing of older adults or pay through the nose later via Medicare and Medicaid?

I hope when that question is ultimately answered, they will conclude that the return on investment of health rather than illness represents the best choice from a human and fiscal perspective.

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