Background:  Older people are at increased risk of malnutrition. Community meals have the potential to reduce the risk of developing malnutrition. However, little is known about the nutritional content of these meals or why older people chose to eat in community lunch settings. Wilson (2009) found community meals benefited older people through increasing the appetite of those living alone. This study aimed to explore how meals provided in a community setting contribute to the health, nutritional intake and wellbeing of free-living older people aged 65 years and over.

Methods:  The study included one-to-one (n = 17) and group (n = 9) semi structured interviews, and 7 day food-diaries (n = 5) with older people aged over 65 recruited using convenience sampling from a local volunteer run, community luncheon club. Qualitative interview and fieldnote data were transcribed and data were coded and thematically analysed (using NVivo 7™), Quantitative analysis of the food diary data and récipes used to prepare food at the lunch group (Using Dietplan 6.2™) was used to explore the nutritional contribution of the food eaten at the lunch group during the study week. Ethical review was undertaken by the University Ethics Committee.

Results:  Analysis of the food diaries showed that nutrient intake on the day they ate at the lunch group was higher than their median intakes for other days of the week for iron, calcium and folate, though intake of Vitamin D did not reach the DRV(RNI) (Department of Health 1991) see Figure 1. Qualitative analysis found that eating in a community setting played an important role in providing a space for social interaction and support. Perceived nutritional benefits included the provision of a ‘proper’, ‘home-cooked’ meal, increasing the range of food eaten and the affordable price.

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[  Micronutrient intake between 1 day attending luncheon club and median intake for other 6 days as median percentage of DRV (RNI). ]

Discussion:  This pilot study is limited by both its sample size and being undertaken in one setting, however, it does demonstrate the contribution that the voluntary sector may be making to both the dietary intake and social well-being of older people. Further work is needed to explore other types of community food provision. It was interesting to note that malnutrition or concern for health did not emerge as a reason for choosing to eat in this setting.

Conclusion:  Community lunch group meals may contribute to the nutrient intake of older people and provide benefit to their physical health and social well being. This type of voluntary provision is likely to be of increasing importance to older people in the current economic climate.

References:  Department of Health (1991) Dietary Reference Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the United Kingdom. Report of the Panel on Dietary Reference Values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. London: The Stationery Office.

Wilson, L. (2009) Preventing malnutrition in later life: The role of community food project. London: The Caroline Walker Trust & Age Concern.