Did you know that March is celebrated as National Nutrition Month? The observance, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is an annual initiative to teach optimal nutrition. The Academy, which hosts Eatright.org, has more than 110,000 members, and is the United States’ largest organization of registered dietitians, nutritionists, and nutrition and dietetics technicians.

For 2024, the Academy’s celebratory theme is “Beyond the Table,” a trend which addresses the farm to fork aspect of nutrition; from food production to distribution, to navigating grocery stores and farmers markets while focusing on sustainability.

So, why the need for National Nutrition Month? The answer is simple. Nutrition is a critical component to everyone’s health and longevity, especially for older Americans with compromised immune systems and comorbidities. The program, which focuses on teaching balanced nutritional regimes, can equate to having stronger natural body defenses and immune responses, while lowering the risk of chronic, noncommunicable illnesses (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease). Further, eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet while decreasing salt consumption, sugars and saturated, industrially produced, trans-fats, can help us feel more energetic.

Nutritional services are a major component of the Osceola Council on Aging’s efforts. We extensively focus on the nutritional health of our seniors, whether it be our Meals on Wheels (MOW), Congregate Dining Services and Community Food Pantries in Kissimmee and St. Cloud.

Comparably, the OCOA’s nutritional outreach programs are the most requested of all services administered by our social service organization, delivering hundreds of meals per day with MOW and serving, on average, several hundred clients within our Congregate Dining services, multiple times each week.

“Our nutrition assistance initiatives, along with our extensive outreach programs, are designed to improve our client’s overall health, while clearly reducing their risk of hunger, food insecurities, and malnutrition,” said Chris Hougland, RN, and OCOA’s Senior Vice President of Health Services. “Another goal in offering multiple food service programs is to help our clients retain more of their fixed household income for financial self-sufficiency.”

There are many socialization components to our food services; seniors are given the opportunity to visit with other senior clients and friends during Congregate Dining, while our volunteers who deliver for MOW also visit many. A sizable percentage of those seniors live alone, so socializing with delivery drivers often makes their day.

In 2023 alone, 190,000 meals were delivered to 1,100 MOW clients. Our volunteer drivers reach community residents who, sadly, would have difficulty surviving without this nutrition program. A 2023 report by FeedingAmerica. org, states senior hunger continues to be a pressing issue in the United States, with 5.5 million seniors aged 60 and up and 3.8 million older adults 50-59 having experienced food insecurity.

So, as we celebrate National Nutrition Month, the OCOA will continue to work to provide nutritionally balanced meals to our seniors in hopes of keeping them well fed and nutritiously healthy. Meanwhile, no matter the age, let us all focus on making informed food choices, while developing healthier eating habits, for better overall health.

For more information on the nutrition assistance programs offered by the OCOA, contact Annie Petty at 407-846-8532, extension 1213. Of course, the OCOA is always in need of friendly volunteers to support our programs, so if you are interested in volunteering, please call Michelle Vega, at 407-846-8532.

 

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Council’s Corner — March is National Nutrition Month