2 minute read

Congregate and Home-Delivered Meals

Good Nutrition And Healthy Aging, Warning Signs Of Poor Nutritional Health, Help In Staying Healthy

The Nutrition Program for the Elderly (NPE), part of the Older Americans Act (OAA) grants for state and community programs on aging, helps ensure a healthy, well-balanced diet for older Americans. Through this program, seniors who might otherwise be isolated and lonely, or who cannot afford to buy or prepare meals for themselves, do not have to go without food. They can eat a meal and socialize with their friends in a neighborhood setting, or they can have nutritious meals delivered to their home, often by a volunteer.

The NPE is administered by the Administration on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service through the national network of state and area agencies on aging. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service contributes cash and commodity foods to support the NPE.

Congregate and home-delivered meals are available to seniors free of charge, though participants are encouraged to contribute toward their costs. Any senior who is at least age sixty is eligible for the program, and so are spouses, regardless of age. Seniors do not have to meet any income test or other requirements to receive meals under the program.

Community nutrition programs are especially important for the very old, people living alone, people at or near the poverty line, minorities, and people with failing health or physical or mental impairments. NPE therefore tries to locate meal sites where vulnerable and at-risk frail older persons live.

During the 1960s senior citizen advocates began to push for a national program to protect the nutritional health of seniors. Their advocacy Rolland Digre (right) delivers a meal to homebound Dolly Bogen in May 2001 in Hendricks, Minnesota. The local Meals on Wheels program in Hendricks delivers quality meals to to the city's growing senior citizen population. (AP/Wide World photo.) was spurred, in part, by a 1965 USDA nutrition study that attracted attention with its finding that 95 million Americans did not consume an adequate diet, including 6 to 8 million older persons. In response, Congress appropriated $2 million in 1968 for nutrition demonstrations and research. These groundbreaking demonstrations led to the creation of community nutrition programs for the elderly. The federal legislation authorizing the NPE was sponsored by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and signed into law March 1972 by President Richard M. Nixon.

For the fiscal year 2000, Congress appropriated $512 million for the NPE. The federal government uses a population-based formula to apportion NPE funds to states. State Units on Aging transfer the funds to Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), which in turn contract with community nutrition providers. In some cases, the AAAs also provide services themselves. Community nutrition programs have various other sources of funding that include state and local government, in-kind contributions, private donations, and voluntary contributions from participants. In 1997 these additional resources totaled $621 million.

A similar nutrition program for Native American elders is authorized by Title VI of the OAA. The Administration on Aging awards funds directly to federally recognized Indian tribal organizations and nonprofit private organizations serving Native Hawaiians. Indian tribal organizations may select an age below sixty for defining an "older" person for their tribes.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1