VA teaching kitchens offer nutrition education to older veterans

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The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthy Teaching Kitchen programs offers a new vehicle for nutrition education among older veterans, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen is an interactive nutrition education program offered by the Veterans Health Administration's Nutrition and Food Services Department that addresses several aging-related issues like social connection, nutrition, and self-care. Participants learn to grocery shop, make healthy choices, and cook.

Nutrition needs to be supported by a high-quality diet that meets requirements for both micronutrients and macronutrients. This is especially important for older adults because poor nutrition increases the risk of aging-related issues like osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and falls, according to the study. 

The authors suggest nutrition education for older adults is improved by taking a holistic approach. By applying a five-part geriatric care framework that provides a categorical structure for older adults' complex health needs, including mind, multi-complexity, medications, and mobility, the issues affecting older adults can be easily addressed, the authors said.

Programming through group classes can address social isolation or be tailored to individuals with mental health issues or cognitive impairment. Given many older adults take more than five medications simultaneously or specific medications that affect nutrition, teaching how diet, disease, and medications interact and affect participants' daily choices is key. The authors found using this framework for future nutrition and cooking educational programming may benefit the geriatric population. The program got largely positive reviews from its attendees.

The Healthy Teaching Kitchen program at the VA is part of the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative, a collaboration through the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America with the goal of learning best practices and expanding research of Teaching Kitchen programs. The collaborative plans to do future research in this area.