Local Girl Scout Focuses On Nutritional Needs Of Seniors

By Lynda Jones

"I believe the general public is not as aware of the issues that face our senior citizens. By posting this case study, I hope to change that," Christina McElhany, a seventh grade Cadette Girl Scout of Latexo Girl Scout Troop 1875, said in reference to her Girl Scout Silver Award Project.

Christina McElhany, daughter of Dan and Kimberly McElhany of Crockett, focused on the quality of nutrition Houston County’s seniors receive for her Girl Scout Silver Award Project. (Photo by Lynda Jones)Christina McElhany, daughter of Dan and Kimberly McElhany of Crockett, focused on the quality of nutrition Houston County’s seniors receive for her Girl Scout Silver Award Project. (Photo by Lynda Jones)McElhany began her project in November 2013 and completed it on May 7. She devoted 62 hours to researching whether senior citizens are meeting their daily food and nutrition requirements that they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

McElhany said, "This is a subject that is very concerning to our community."

She explained that her focus on senior citizens began when she started volunteering at Houston County SHARE.

"I realized the overwhelming need that our senior citizens required involving their nutrition. Our food pantry helps many seniors in our community, but it is small and cannot reach everyone," McElhany said. "Some seniors don't meet the financial requirements even though most seniors are on a fixed income. These seniors often have to decide on buying their medication or nutritious food."

McElhany's research involved three control groups that included individuals 60 years of age or older at the Houston County Senior Citizens Center in Crockett, in their private homes, and a blind control group that was given anonymous questionnaires.
"These are self-assessment studies and all data is local to our county and is not related to nursing homes or hospitals/hospice centers," McElhany explained.
"After compiling all the data, it seems that the most nutritional needs that were lacking in all groups were the consumption of calcium fortified juice and 20 minutes of sun exposure for vitamin D consumption," McElhany said. "A lack of beef consumption was also a concern. I would have liked to seen a higher dairy consumption, since this is the age were osteo issues are more prevalent in seniors, especially women."
She said she found the group with the most positive overall results were the men she interviewed at the Houston County Senior Citizens Center.
"I believe this is the highest group because they offer daily reduced meals to all seniors," McElhany said. She also noted, "A large percentage of these males are widowers so this probably the most nutritious meal of the day for them."
She found the group with the lowest positive data was the Blind Control Group.McElhany hypothesized this result "could be because people tend to be more honest when they participate in anonymous surveys."
The males in the Blind Control Group reported a lack of animal protein, calcium fortified juice, fruits/vegetables, sun exposure, fiber cereal intake and beef consumption.
"They scored well in water intake, whole grains, daily multi-vitamins and dairy intake," McElhany reported.
Results from the females in the Blind Control Group, McElhany reported, showed an even consumption of animal protein, dairy, calcium fortified juice and daily multi-vitamins.
"The most notable failure was fruits/vegetables, sun exposure, fiber cereal, grains, whole grains and beef consumption. The only one they excelled at was their water intake," McElhany reported.
McElhany concluded, "I hope that this study will help our community and state see that more food programs are needed to take care of all of our seniors in Houston County and even across the State of Texas. No person should have to choose between life-saving medication and eating. I believe these are basic human rights that should be afforded to all people. Our seniors helped to shape the world we live in, so it is all of our responsibility to help shape their future now in a positive way."
McElhany mailed a copy of her study to the State Capitol and to State Representative Trent Ashby.