Hunger Awareness Day

March 15th was Hunger Awareness Day in New York State. Raising awareness and working to eliminate hunger in New York is essential. Fortunately, there are many steps we have taken as a state to reduce hunger.

There are many organizations in the state that reach out to provide nutritious meals for those who cannot provide for themselves. One of these organizations is Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels recently held its annual March for Meals, which tries to raise awareness about the importance of volunteering to eliminate hunger. My office participated in this event and delivered meals to people around Syracuse for a day. The people that receive meals are those who may not be able to venture out of their homes to buy food, and would not be able to prepare healthy, balanced meals for themselves, causing their health to deteriorate.

Meals on Wheels delivers every person in the program one cold meal and one hot meal. If requested, they can also provide a frozen meal, which can be good for lunch or dinner the next day.

The local Meals on Wheels Program, with the help of more then 1,400 volunteers, provides more than 430,000 meals to 1,800 homebound recipients in Onondaga County. Meals on Wheels of Syracuse served 898 people 225,942 meals in 2006, a 9.5% increase from 2005.

Our elderly population is rapidly growing. In the US, the fastest growing population by 2015 is projected to be people age 85 and older. In 2000, 12% of the population was people age 65 and older was, and by 2030 that number will grow to 20% (New York State Department of Aging). With the elderly population expanding so rapidly, the need for programs designed to help them remain nutritionally healthy will increase.

One in four seniors is estimated to be nutritionally insecure, meaning that they do not have sufficient income to buy food or keep from worrying about buying food (According to Nutrition Screening Initiative). The NYS Coalition on Aging reports that 50% of older adults in hospitals and nursing homes are malnourished, and that malnourished hospital patients cost four times the amount well nourished patients do. Older adults at nutritional risk have two to twenty times more complications, 100% longer hospitals stays and compile $2,000 -$10,000 higher costs.

To combat these risks, nutrition intervention reduces hospital utilization 25-45% (according to Kaiser Permanente in California), and every $1 invested in nutrition programs saves $3.25 in health care costs (Nutrition Screening Initiative). Seniors in poor nutritional status are more likely to need homecare and eventually institutionalization. By providing nutritious meals for seniors, it reduces the negative long term effects, and allows seniors to live longer healthier lives.

In the Assembly, I strongly support hunger and nutrition awareness. That’s why I supported legislation that provides for the availability and distribution of healthy foods and beverages on school property and at school-sponsored functions. I also sponsored a resolution which recognizes March 5-9, 2007, as National School Breakfast Week in the State of New York.

It is important we all realize that nutrition is vital. To eliminate hunger, spreading awareness is the first step. I urge anyone who is interested to call their local hunger relief agency, such as Meals on Wheels, and volunteer your time to raise awareness and eliminate hunger in our community and our state.