Tag Archives: Food

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis Puts Older Populations-At-Risk

This article is the first part of a two-part series on Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis. Click here to read Part 2.

Photo Credit: Wilfredo Rodríguez
Photo Credit: Wilfredo Rodríguez

Venezuela is in the midst of an economic collapse. Oil prices have plummeted and the bolivar (Venezuelan currency) has dropped in value compared to the U.S. dollar. The situation is rapidly becoming a humanitarian emergency due to inflation and devaluation of the currency, food shortages, and collapse of the healthcare system. Safety threats and violence have also escalated an already unstable event. While news coverage of these incidents focus on the impact on children or young adults, this crisis has serious implications for older adults who are often vulnerable in the face of disaster.

Food Shortage

One of the hallmarks of media coverage are the pictures of long lines at grocery stores and food banks. In response to the food shortage, the Venezuelan government has instituted a rationing system, in which individuals must appear in person to buy food on the day indicated by the last digit on their ID card. For older adults who lose mobility or cannot make it to the grocery store on their designated day, there are few alternative options. Even for individuals who make it to the grocery store, there is often no food available. In a video posted on YouTube, an older woman states that she is hungry and willing to buy anything. She says, “It is sad that at this age [old age] it has come to this”. (English translation)

A writer for Havana Times shared an experience in a Venezuelan grocery store, “I also saw many elderly people waiting for hours to be able to buy something…”. Older adults often support their family by reserving a spot in the long lines which have thousands of people waiting for hours to reach the front. Exposure to the weather alone makes the ordeal of grocery shopping in Venezuela a threat to the health of older adults. In January of 2016, the government decreed that individuals should engage in their own food production, a daunting task for older adults.

Safety has been a pressing concern, especially surrounding grocery stores and food. In August of 2015, Reuters reported the death of an 80-year-old Venezuelan woman in a supermarket, “possibly from trampling”. In addition to riots and stampedes, there are reports of shots fired and frequent assaults in lines at grocery stores. The army and national police have responded by guarding the lines, but it is unclear whether the people are being protected or controlled by security forces.

Conclusion

With recovery a long way off, there have been calls for other nations to come to the aid of Venezuela. Older adults and children can benefit from food and health assistance but President Nicolás Maduro states that the situation is not nearly as bad as portrayed in the media. For instance, Cuban doctors are helping to mitigate the healthcare crisis in Venezuela. The fact is that foreign aid may not even be enough, hence societies should have strong governments with smart fiscal policies to insure safety nets for older individuals.

Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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How Social Factors Affect Diabetes Prevalence Among U.S. Hispanic Subgroups

Early this month, Global Health Aging published an article about the dangers of type 2 diabetes among older Hispanics. The focus will now be on the prevalence of this disease among Hispanics including the impact of age, food habits, urbanization and length of stay in the U.S.

Photo Credit: lucianvenutian
                                                    Photo Credit: lucianvenutian

People of Latino and Hispanic descent are at a high risk of type 2 diabetes and related conditions. In the August 2014 issue of Diabetes Care, a study found that the risk varies a great deal among specific subgroups and even based on other factors like how long they have lived in the United States.

According to the study, the prevalence of diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed) among Hispanics and Latinos of all groups was 16.9 percent for men and women compared to 10.2 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Prevalence varied a great deal when looking at subgroups. For example, individuals of Mexican descent had the highest prevalence at 18.3 percent while those of South American descent had the lowest prevalence of 10.2 percent. People of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent had a diabetes prevalence of 18.1 percent and those of Central American descent had a rate of 17.7 percent. More than 13 percent of people with Cuban descent had diabetes. This shows a strong correlation between diabetes and people of Hispanic descent in the United States. Many factors are responsible for the diabetes prevalence including unhealthy eating habits.

In the United States, Houston makes a great case study because of the city’s makeup and close location to Mexico and the Deep South. David Napier of University College London (UCL) states that “People used food as not only a reinforcement of tradition and ritual but also as a way of connecting socially. You’ve moved here from somewhere else, it’s a way to reinforce your identity, it’s a real cultural asset to have, but in a biological sense it’s not the best thing.” Nutrition is complex when tackling diabetes or obesity in Hispanic subgroups. This is why a flexible and targeted approach about healthy eating is necessary for fighting these conditions. Ultimately, the goal is not to get rid of traditional foods, but to find ways to make those foods healthier or introduce better options.

Other factors contributing to the diabetes prevalence include age, urbanization and length of stay in the U.S. The study published by Diabetes Care stated that diabetes rates increased significantly with age to 50 percent among Hispanic and Latino women by the age of 70 and 44 percent for men between ages 70 and 74. The study also reported that the longer someone lived in the U.S., the more likely they were to develop type 2 diabetes. Moreover, urban areas of Venezuela, Chile and Argentina are experiencing rising diabetes rates partly to traffic, crowded living conditions, air pollution, and a more sedentary lifestyle, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious global concern. Society needs to tackle the disease on all fronts because the consequences can be fatal. It is important to raise awareness of the complications and hope that medical professionals find new ways to reduce the burden of diabetes.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Parul Patel, DPM is the lead physician of Infinity Foot and Ankle, a podiatry practice with three locations in Texas. She has more than 11 years of experience in podiatric medicine. Dr. Patel specializes in podiatric care such as diabetic podiatry, preventative care and surgical podiatry.

The Threat of Food Insecurity Among the Elderly in the U.S. and Beyond

In 2012, 1.1 million (9.1 percent) U.S. senior citizens living independently were considered food insecure. This number is expected to increase by 50 percent in 2025 as the U.S. population continues to age. Data reported by American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) described increases in the number of older adults experiencing food insecurity since 2007. It was shown that food insecurity rose by 25 percent among individuals aged 60 and older between 2007-2009. According to AARP, individuals were more likely to report food insecurity if they were non-white, Hispanic, renters, widowed, divorced or separated, high school dropouts, unemployed and with a disability, had an income below the federal poverty line, and those with grandchildren living in the household.

                                                                                                        Photo Credit: Pixabay

Defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”, food insecurity is directly related to a household’s ability to acquire the foods that are necessary for daily living. Among vulnerable and dependent populations such as the elderly, food insecurity can be particularly pronounced.

Individuals who are considered food insecure are at risk for experiencing poor health due to malnutrition. Health risks of particular relevance to the elderly include impaired cognition, diminished immune function, and the potential decrease in life expectancy. In addition to physical health concerns, mental health risks may also accompany malnutrition including feelings of powerlessness and isolation as well as stress and anxiety. Among the elderly, feelings of anxiety related to food insecurity are more pronounced than among young people. For the elderly living with chronic diseases (a number that has grown exponentially worldwide) such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, having access to a nutritious diet is a key factor in their ability to manage their condition.

While food insecurity is closely tied to having the financial resources necessary to purchase food, among the elderly, additional barriers may impact their access. In a series of interviews conducted with 46 elderly households in New York state, additional barriers to food access that participants reported were: transportation limitations, mobility limitations, lack of motivation/ability to prepare meals, financial compromises (purchasing food vs. other expenses), and food compromises (quality vs. quantity).

From a global perspective, ensuring that the aging population has adequate access to the resources necessary for healthy living (including safe, nutritious, and affordable food options) should be a priority. Advocating for such resources requires concerted efforts locally, regionally, and nationally. This is particularly important as our global society continues to confront multidimensional problems that threaten environmental, economic, and social stability.

Diana Kingsbury
is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.