One Third of Canadian Seniors at Nutrition Risk

Eating well is vital no matter what our age.Eating well is vital no matter what our age.  For Canadian seniors this is becoming an ever-growing challenge with one third of seniors classified as being at nutrition risk. Access to nutritious and personally acceptable foods can be diminished by decreased mobility, financial strains and changes in living environments. For those who are able to obtain adequate food, nutrition status can be further compromised by decreases in appetite, chronic health conditions and changes to social eating environments – such as the loss of a loved one. Thankfully there are strategies and services available to optimize seniors’ nutrition and health status.

Women and Those Living Alone More Likely at Risk

According to the 2013 Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 34% of seniors are at nutrition risk. The Healthy Aging portion of the survey polled 15,000 seniors over the age of 65 about their height, weight, cooking and eating habits.

Survey results reflected that rarely eating with a companion and eating fewer than two fruit and vegetable servings per day were contributors to poor nutrient intake. However, the two largest factors to being at nutrition risk were:

  • Skipping meals almost every day
  • Gaining or losing more than 10lb (4.5kg) over six months

various vegetables and fruit studio isolatedThose living alone were significantly more likely to be at nutrition risk (49%) compared to those living with others (28%). Women (38%) were also more likely than men (29%) to be at nutrition risk.

Social Circumstances

For seniors who live alone, it can be hard to stay motivated to cook for one. Food may become unappealing and some seniors are not as comfortable cooking as others.  This can lead to skipped meals and poor nutrient intake.

For those preparing meals at home, efforts should be made to enjoy the mealtime experience in order to optimize intake. Options to consider include setting a nice table setting, eating outside, reading a book or watching a favorite TV show during meals. Cooking a few larger meals to portion throughout the week is a time and cost saving option for many and reduces the day-to-day burden of preparing meals. Meals on Wheels programs are also available in most communities and can be a nice option for seniors who wish to have hot meals delivered to their door. For those looking to get out of the house, many community centres, seniors halls and religious organizations also provide meals and a time to socialize with others.

Physical and Mental Health

Survey results from the CCHS also reflected that poor oral health, having a moderate to severe physical disability and being on five or more medications also significantly increased the chances of being at nutrition risk. Mental health was also a predictor of nutrition status with depressed seniors being 62% at nutrition risk compared to only 33% for seniors who were not depressed.

Culinary_fruits_front_viewMobility concerns can play a huge part in how often seniors are able to grocery shop and obtain fresh, nutritious ingredients. Often times seniors may be reliant on friends and family members to take them grocery shopping. For those who are socially isolated, obtaining an adequate food supply can become an even greater burden and can easily lead to poor nutrient intake. The Better at Home Program is a great option available specifically to seniors as they provide a range of non-medical home support services including grocery shopping, transportation and volunteer visits (services vary by community).

Changing Nutrient Needs

Energy and calorie needs decrease as we age but it is still important to get those calories from all four food groups. Follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide for healthy portion and meal balance guidelines.

Vitamins and minerals that older adults should pay special attention to include:

Vitamin D
Health Canada recommends that in addition to eating vitamin D rich foods such as milk and fish, everyone over the age of 50 should take a daily Vitamin D supplement of 400 IU to maintain bone health. Vitamin D is often times included in multivitamins but can also be taken separately as drops or individual supplements.

Consuming calcium rich foods is also important in maintaining bone health and reducing risk of falls. Any one over the age of 50 who does not eat three servings of milk or alternatives each day should talk to their doctor about the need for a calcium supplement.

Vitamin B12
Seniors are at greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency due to decreased ability to absorb this vitamin. Maintaining adequate B12 status is especially important for nerve cell function. Since vitamin B12 is naturally found only in animal products such as meat, fish and eggs – vegetarians also need to ensure taking supplementary vitamin B12. A doctor can perform a simple blood test to check for B12 status and recommend supplements as needed.

For seniors or their loved ones looking for more healthy eating information, reliable and convenient advice is only a phone call away. Call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 to speak to a Registered Dietitian free of charge 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Copies of the Healthy Eating for Seniors Handbook are also available for order free of charge by dialing 8-1-1.


Statistics Canada: Nutritional Risk Among Older Canadians
CTV News: One-third of Canada’s Seniors at Nutritional Risk: StatsCan  

Healthy Eating for Seniors Handbook

Seniors Services Society Grocery Shopping Program

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide

HealthLink BC: Healthy Eating

EatRight Ontario: Older Adults Eating Well


Guest contributor Destyni Atchison is a Registered Dietitian and health coach specializing in seniors care and community health, as well as diabetes and weight management. Destyni runs her own nutrition consulting business in Fort St John and provides online consultations throughout the province.