Senior citizens afraid to speak up about nutritional value of Meals on Wheels

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio - Some local seniors are concerned about the nutritional oversight on home-delivered meals provided by the Meals on Wheels program.

Sheryl Walter says some seniors living in her South Euclid apartment complex are worried about too much sugar, fat, and salt in some of the frozen or packaged meals delivered to their doors.

Walter agreed the Meals on Wheels program does a great job in feeding thousands of northeast Ohio seniors, but she believes more must be done to keep track of nutrition, expiration dates, and portion control.

Walter said she and other seniors have received items that are too close to their expiration dates.

"I think it's a huge problem," said Walter.

"It's not proportioned right, you ask to talk to a nutritionist that's on staff, you can't get one, because they're not there."

Walter said too many seniors are afraid to come forward and complain because they're concerned they will be cut from the program.

Meals on Wheels America responded quickly to our story, and told News 5, while it doesn't require a licensed dietitian or nutritionist at its 5,000 member agencies, a good number of their programs use a nutrition professional to help with their programs.

The agency also said there is federal oversight on programs that utilize federal funds through the Older Americans Act.

Meals on Wheels America issued the following statement:

"While Meals on Wheels America empowers local member programs through funding, leadership, education, research and advocacy support, the local Meals on Wheels programs are autonomous in their operations, including nutrition planning.

Programs do often work with Registered Dietitians or other nutrition professionals when designing menus to ensure nutritionally balanced meals that follow Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

Local Meals on Wheels programs meet the nutritional needs for seniors by adhering to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and providing at least one-third for of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI). This is required for all programs who receive federal funding through the Older Americans Act."

Meanwhile Shelia Dessau, Senior Director of Clinical Programs, with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging told News 5, meals served by its home delivered meals program are all directed by a staff licensed dietitian.

Dessau believes requiring dietitian oversight on meal programs is critical. 

"It's important that we know what our seniors are getting, and the only way that we can really do that is if we have centralized oversight," said Dessau.

University Hospitals Clinical Dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic agrees requiring a dietitian to consistently monitor a home meals delivery program can create important benefits.

"I do think standardization with a registered dietitian could only improve the great things that they're already doing," said Jamieson-Petonic.

Sheryl Walter said it's important seniors speak-up and call their home delivery programs if they have concerns about the nutritional value of the meals they are receiving.

"They have to start picking up the phone and complaining," explained Walter.

"If they don't, it's going to continue going this way."

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