Summer 2022 Newsletter
By Laura Stilwell, M.Ed.
UAMS Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative (AGEC)
The Arkansas Geriatric Educational Collaborative (AGEC) provides nutrition education and cooking tips for older adults in our monthly Facebook Live program, “From Our Kitchen to Yours.” Two AGEC community programs provide healthy nutritional information as well: Eat Well, Live Well, and Healthy Brain, Healthy Heart. These two programs can be presented either in person or via zoom. They’re also available on-demand online at patientslearn.uams.edu/agec. The program content follow the recommendations outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 published by the USDA. The Guidelines outline a dietary pattern for older adults that is predominately plant-based and follows the Mediterranean Dietary pattern. (USDA, 2021)
The USDA has published the April 2022 forecasts of the consumer price index. As summarized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food inflation is reported in two categories: food-away-from-home (restaurant purchases) and food-at-home (grocery store purchases). Restaurant purchases were 6.9% higher in March 2022 than March 2021. Grocery purchases were 10% higher in March, 2022 than one year ago. Meat groups were the grocery category experiencing the highest increases, (predominately beef), with fresh vegetables having the least increase in pricing. Many factors contribute to rising prices in food purchasing, one of which being the impact of the Ukrainian conflict. Increased fuel costs for transportation of goods and supply chain disruptions also play a major role in higher food costs. (USDA, 2022) The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted the supply chain for supermarkets, making dietary staples difficult to find. Additionally, job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic decreased spendable income for older adults. (USDA, 2022) Indirectly, the increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve is also expected to negatively impact spendable income. (USDA, 2022)
In simple terms, food prices are on the rise in 2022. Supply for many products is low. Transportation costs are high. Income available for grocery expenses is trending down due to higher interest rates, higher energy costs, and overall inflation. In the current economic market, planning ahead and shopping wisely can allow older adults to maintain a healthy dietary pattern and a manageable food budget. Using tools outlined in MyPlate.gov and utilizing community food resources, older adults can save money and find supplemental food sources in the community. (USDA, 2022)(NCOA, 2022)
The USDA provides shopping and budgeting tools in the MyPlate plan at MyPlate.gov. Menu plans, recipes, shopping lists, and strategies for saving are all outlined under the Tools section at Myplate.gov. While shoppers are faced with high meat prices, a shift toward a more plant-based dietary pattern may be beneficial. Realigning food choices to plant protein sources is recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as the Mediterranean and DASH Dietary models. (USDA, 2021) By choosing vegetables and fruits that are sourced locally and are in season, it’s easier to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables at a more comfortable price point than buying foods that are imported or transported long distances. Foods that are transported long distances and have lengthy storage reflect the high cost of fuel and storage energy. (USDA, 2022)
For older adults who may be on a fixed income, food price inflation causes concern about day-to-day expenses. In addition to planning carefully and spending food dollars wisely, there are programs designed to help older adults with their food needs. Beyond the rapidly rising costs of food, many older adults have other financial or social factors such as fixed incomes or a lack of food accessibility that make them especially vulnerable to food insecurity. There are a variety of local and national agencies available to older adults to combat food insecurity. One such agency is the National Council on Aging. The (NCOA) provides information for food assistance for older adults; eligibility for food assistance may be determined by visiting BenefitsCheckup.org and entering a local zip code. (NCOA, 2022) Food banks are located across the United States and provide over sixty thousand meal programs that serve all fifty states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. While the NCOA outlines federal benefits, Area Agencies on Aging coordinate the benefits at the local level. Arkansas Agencies on Aging administer the benefits for older adults in Arkansas. All seventy-five counties in Arkansas are divided into eight regions that receive nutritional support from the Arkansas Agencies on Aging. (Arkansas DHS, 2018)
The Meals on Wheels program provides in-home meal distribution to qualifying older adults. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits to be used at retailers, farmers markets, roadside stands and Community Supported Agricultural programs (CSAs). Another program called the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) also provides access to fresh locally grown produce. These benefits enable older adults to buy fresh fruits and vegetable and other nutritious foods. Another supplemental program is the senior food box program, officially called the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. This program, administered locally by Area Agencies on Aging, allows older adults to improve their daily dietary pattern with healthy surplus food from the USDA commodity food list. An individual senior food box contains staple items such as pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, cheese, milk and cereal. In addition to Meals on Wheels and retail benefits through SNAP programs, local senior centers with administration through the Arkansas Area Agencies on Aging provide nutritional congregate meals, as well as transportation to these centers to allow older adults access to hot, nutritious meals in a group setting. These meals may be free, or available for a minimal cost. (NCOA)
The rising costs of food can be concerning, especially older adults. Through diligent planning and utilization of food resources, a healthy dietary pattern can be maintained through this economic cycle of high food prices. (USDA, 2022) Using planning tools from myplate.gov, along with resources available through the Arkansas Area Agencies on Aging, can allow eligible seniors to supplement food sources and reduce overall food expenses while on a fixed budget. Following the basic tips of planning meals for home dining, keeping healthy snacks on hand, and utilizing supplemental resources can help consumers navigate food inflation. Keeping a healthy dietary pattern on track and alleviating anxiety about finances is possible by having resources available for older adults for food purchase and accessibility. (NCOA)
Area Agencies on Aging 2018 – Arkansas department of human services. humansevices.arkansas.gov. (2018). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://humanservices.arkansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017_Senior_Benefits_Resource_Guide.pd_5-1.pdf
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.(2020). Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and Secreary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, Washington, D.C. p 16-22, p.122-130.
Dong, D., Stewart, H., Don, X., & Hahn W., (2022, April). Quantifying Consumer Welfare of Impacts of Higher Meat Prices During Covid-19 Pandemic ERR 306. www.ers.usda.gov. Retrieved June 6, 2022 from
MacLachlan, M., & Sweitzer, M. (2022, April). Summary Findings food Price Outlook 2022.
www.ers.usda.gov. Retrieved May 25, 2022, from
National Council On Aging. (2022, April 18). Food assistance for Older Adults Help to Gain Access to Healthy Food: Resources for Older Adults. www.ncoa.org. Retrieved May 25, 2022, from https://www.ncoa.org/article/help-to-gain-access-to-healthy-food-resources-for-older-adults