Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

September 07, 2000

U of G prof to identify seniors at risk

A University of Guelph professor has received two federal research awards totaling more than $600,000 to study links between seniors' nutrition and health across Canada.

Prof. Heather Keller, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, expects her work will yield new screening tools to help identify seniors at nutritional risk, as well as programs designed to improve nutrition and health of elderly Canadians.

Keller was awarded a Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) chair this summer worth more than $300,000 over five years, and an additional $300,000 over three years from Health Canada through its Population Health Fund. "The whole thing hinges on the idea that nutrition is important in improving and preventing adverse health outcomes in seniors," she said. "We need screening tools to identify seniors at risk and good programs to keep people healthy."

Although the connection between good nutrition and health might seem intuitive, Keller says that link has traditionally been tough to make, let alone to address. It's difficult to isolate factors that affect eating habits and dietary choices: living alone, lowered income, use of medications, impaired digestion and inability to purchase and prepare food. Small wonder, she says, that even physicians sometimes fail to ensure that their elderly patients eat enough of the right things. She says of the 5 per cent of seniors living in institutions such as nursing homes, about half are malnourished or at risk of becoming malnourished. That proportion rises to between 60 and 80 per cent for seniors admitted to hospital.

The CIHR funding will enable Keller to conduct a research program called "Nutrition and Health of Older Adults." Under this program, she hopes to:

-- develop valid, reliable tools for screening and assessing seniors' nutritional risk and status;

-- promote ethical nutrition risk screening;

-- determine the prevalence of nutritional risk and contributing factors;

-- demonstrate that nutritional risk affects the health of older Canadians; and

-- develop and evaluate treatment and educational programs to help improve nutrition.

Keller will work with various partners -- including St. Joseph's Hospital in Guelph, Dietitians of Canada, Meals on Wheels, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons and the Canadian Homecare Association -- to develop screening and evaluation programs in five demonstration sites across the country. By the end of the three years, she hopes to have a sense of the nutritional risk and prevalence across Canada. That information currently unavailable will help advocates and agencies lobby governments for programs and funding and will help determine which organizations should be screening seniors for nutritional risk and designing interventions.

Contact: Prof. Heather Keller Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2544

For media questions, contact Lori Hunt, Media Relations Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

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