A study released by Massey University last week found 23% of elderly people living independently, or newly-admitted to hospital or residential care, are malnourished. A further 35% are deemed at high risk. It’s a serious problem that The Pure Food Co. has been fighting with its texture-modified, fortified, New Zealand-made foods designed specifically for this growing global issue.
“Elderly nutrition is a huge challenge in New Zealand. Our population is ageing and we’re struggling to address their needs,” says Sam Bridgewater, co-founder of the Auckland-based startup, which was recognised in the 2016 Deloitte Fast 50 as a Rising Star and One to Watch.
“Almost half of the elderly people recently admitted to residential care in the study were malnourished — that’s a scary statistic. Healthcare and aged-care providers are trying their best but health conditions in the ageing are contributing to and occurring as a consequence of inadequate food and nutrition intake. Elderly people from all walks of life are struggling to eat well. It’s not simply about weight loss — malnutrition results in lower immunity, increased falls and generally lower quality of life.”
The researchers from Massey University and the University of Auckland assessed, in the pilot study, 167 people in Auckland. Along with the above statistics, they found those recently admitted to residential care (versus a hospital or living in the community) had a higher prevalence of malnourishment (47% versus 23% and 2%).
“The research we completed when starting The Pure Food Co. backs this study up,” says Bridgewater. “We found that far too many of our elderly population were struggling with unappealing, tasteless purées, drinking sugar-filled liquid supplements, resorting to baby food or, worst of all, just giving up and not eating. These people need food that is nutritionally dense, so even if they can only eat small amounts, they get improved nutritional benefit. An in-house study shows that when a programme of our nutritionally-fortified food is introduced into a patient’s diet, 77% gain or maintain weight within weeks (versus 38% prior to introduction), and are able to maintain it for longer than four months.”
The Massey study’s leader, associate professor Carol Wham, says malnutrition is placing strain on healthcare and aged care with “higher infection rates, loss of muscle mass, strength and function, longer length of hospital stays, as well as increasing morbidity and mortality. This issue should not be considered a ‘normal’ part of ageing. It needs to be higher up the political agenda.”
Leading New Zealand dietitian Kaye Dennison, who has teamed up with The Pure Food Co. to address malnutrition in the elderly, says the study shows just how crucial it is for the elderly to get better meal solutions: “Nearly half a million people in New Zealand are caring for an elderly family member and struggling to get them the nutrition they need. The Pure Food Co. is taking a genuine approach to delivering high quality, evidence based food solutions and I see this as a great way of addressing nutrition related problems across community, healthcare and aged residential care settings.”
The Pure Food Co. produces 60 different nutritionally enhanced and soft-textured variants and supplies them to elderly people, hospitals and aged-care facilities around the country. The company makes 25,000 meals a month.
About The Pure Food Co.
The Pure Food Co. was founded in 2014 by Sam Bridgewater and Maia Royal to provide delicious, nutritious foods that enable people to eat well and thrive. The past few years have seen rapid growth, from a small startup to now having specialist soft, fortified meals supplied into major aged care groups, many independent aged care, and approximately half of New Zealand hospitals. It has the support of senior dietitians and healthcare associations, and has won several industry awards: 2015 New Zealand Food Awards winner, Health and Wellness Category; 2015 New Zealand Innovation Awards finalist; 2016 ‘Rising Star’ by the Deloitte