Nearly one-quarter of older Iowans who took part in a statewide nutritional risk assessment were found to be at risk for malnutrition or malnourished. This is very similar to the national average. When we examined the differences between those who were at risk and those who were not, four areas came up: not eating three meals a day, lower intakes of protein rich foods like legumes, eggs and dairy, limited produce, and not drinking enough fluids. Other research we conducted found older Iowans were getting limited amounts of physical activity as well. This limited physical activity increases their risk of chronic disease and disability.
The poor nutritional status of our older residents and the low physical activity participation rates inspired the development of a multi-week program, Stay Independent: A healthy aging series. The original Stay Independent included four lessons:
- Three Meals a Day,
- Feast on Fruits and Vegetables,
- Power Up with Protein, and
- Exercise Your Independence.
Evaluation data show that each lesson is effective in increasing familiarity with the recommended behavior (p < 0.05) with the majority of participants stating they are “very likely” to implement one of the behavior changes discussed. Given the positive response to Stay Independent two additional nutrition and wellness lessons have been developed per the request of participants: Cooking for 1 or 2 and Brain Health (currently being pilot-tested).
Since aging is an interdisciplinary issue, Stay Independent is expanding to include two family life lessons and three family finance lessons. These are currently being developed and pilot-tested. The titles include:
- Family Life (Dr. Jeongeun [Jel] Lee):
- Future care planning
- Thriving in Place
- Family Finance (Dr. Suzanne Bartholomae):
- Spot, Stop and Avoid Scams
- Stretching Your Dollars
- Funeral Planning
Stay Independent is a fun program for participants and the educators. We have currently reached over 300 older Iowans. If you would like to bring Stay Independent to your state, please reach out to Sarah L. Francis for more information.