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MN Helpline Promotes Good Nutrition, Healthy Aging for Seniors

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May 3, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Good nutrition is key to healthy aging, yet many seniors would rather skip meals or skimp on food than ask for help. Less than a quarter of low-income seniors in Minnesota get the nutrition they need, according to concerned agencies, and this can lead to frailty, injury and illness, as well as to more frequent hospital stays.

In Minnesota, the "Eat Well to Be Well" campaign is working to change seniors' attitudes about asking for help, says Jerry Jaker, executive director of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

"What we've begun to do is recast the thinking through this campaign, so that seniors see this almost as an extension of Social Security. It's 'your turn'; this is something you're entitled to."

Gaining access to food support is much easier than seniors might assume, says Jill Hiebert of Hunger Solutions Minnesota.

"It's easy. It only takes about five minutes to determine if you are eligible, and then we provide you with resources on how to apply, where you can apply, and other help within the community, whether it's a food shelf, Meals on Wheels, store-to-door, or other programs that can help you with food."

She says seniors can start by calling the Minnesota Food Helpline, at 1-888-711-1151.

Hiebert adds that good nutrition can add years to independent living.

"Especially with the senior population, what they eat and what sort of medications they take go hand in hand. They help each other, work really well, and make your independent lifestyle more enjoyable, so hopefully you can stay home longer and not have to go into a nursing home."

Jerry Jaker of the Minnesota Institute of Public Health says health insurance companies and public health agencies in other states want to incorporate similar programs.

"We're just scratching the surface of opportunities for improving health among seniors age 60 and over. It's exciting."

The campaign is paying off. In the first month, seniors' calls to the help line have doubled.

Sharon Rolenc/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN