Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Dominican University.

“Aging Canadians have a profound hunger for good nutritional information – and the demand for reliable dietary advice is only going to grow,” said Julia Pilliar at the Dietetic Knowledge Exchange hosted by the School of Nutrition at Ryerson University on May 2.

Throughout her career as a registered dietitian (she also holds a masters degree in public health), she has made some keen observations about consumers’ behaviour related to nutrition – especially as they age – which she shared with about 200 dietitians, nutritionists, students and other healthcare professionals at the one-day event.

Pilliar has been in prime positions to observe and interact with consumers of nutritional information and health products. She has worked as a registered dietitian at Loblaws, first as an in-store dietitian and now as a registered dietitian in multiple Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as at the recently launched Wellwise stores, which specialize in products and expert advice to help Canadians live well and take charge of the way they age.

To kick off her talk, Pilliar shared an epiphany from earlier in her career: “In one of my positions at Loblaws, I was part of a team that was responsible for organizing information sessions, cooking classes, grocery store tours, group workshops, food demonstrations and one-on-one nutrition counselling,” she said. “But our most popular regular event – which had 60 percent more attendance than any of our other in-store sessions – was a monthly brown-bag luncheon devoted to nutrition. Time and time again we’d see the same people coming back, sharing tips, nutritional recipes and dietary challenges. And in those groups there’d always be a contingent of aging Canadians, eager to learn about nutrition.”

Confusion about which supplements to take is prevalent among consumers. Photos: Flickr/Creative Commons, Tiffany Joyce.

Pilliar had yet another epiphany in the supplements aisle at Shoppers Drug Mart. She’d walk down the aisle and see people, often older customers, with a puzzled look on their faces as they attempted to understand the information on the bottles or packaging. “Often they’d say to me, ‘A friend said I should take this vitamin.’ Or, “My doctor recommended this supplement but I don’t’ know how much.’ It quickly became clear to me that these consumers wanted – and needed – dietetic and health advice at point of purchase, in the retail setting.”

She shared some enlightening statistics. Canadians aged 50 to 65 work longer, live better, keep moving, stay sharp and have no intentions of slowing down. Also, 30 percent of Canadians aged 65 to 69 are still working, either full time or part time. In other words, good nutrition is vital for this demographic.

“By engaging consumers where they are shopping day-to-day, outside traditional clinical settings, we believe that dietitians can play an integral role in promoting Canadians’ health on the broadest level,” she told attendees of her session at Ryerson.

Consumers are looking for credible information on how to make healthier choices. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, The Italian Voice.

Her team meets this demand by offering personalized, one-on-one consultations at at Shoppers DrugMart and also by demonstrating products and services for healthy aging at Wellwise stores where consumers can see products in realistic vignettes set up in the stores. “This demographic of aging Canadians likes to ask questions – and they want to try things out right in the store,” she added.

Improved access to dietary and nutrition advice

It’s equally important to be mindful of those aging Canadians who aren’t mobile, said Jennifer Buccino, regional executive director of the Northwest and Central Ontario division of Dietitians of Canada, who impressed upon the audience the need to increase the amount of mandated dietitian time for residents in long-term care. “We’re currently advocating for an increase to 45 minutes per resident per month,” she explained.

Buccino is emphatic that homecare clients also need dietetic services. “Given the importance of nutrition in recovery from acute episodes, and managing the effects of chronic disease, it is very likely that many homecare clients who need dietetic services are not receiving them. Just as it’s important to promote physical activity and fitness to help seniors prevent illness and stay healthy longer, it’s equally vital to promote good nutrition.”

Buccino recommended a downloadable (free) guide titled, A Guide to Healthy Eating for Older Adults – an excellent resource for nutrition information. It covers topics such as grocery tips, calcium and eating alone.

Food is a great connector

Other Statistics Canada figures shared during the conference surprised many in the audience: namely, Canada’s population of 36 million in 2017 is predicted to grow to 52.6 million by 2061, and by 2036, 25 percent of Canadians will be aged 65 or older.

Increasing your daily intake of fruits, vegetables and nuts is a good way to improve your diet. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Hamza Butt.

Lori Schindel Martin, R.N., associate professor in the Daphne Lockwood School of Nursing at Ryerson University, shared other interesting statistics in her presentation, “Soul Food: Meal-times and Well-being in Long Term Care.” She said that dementia affects 45 percent of Canadians living in residential care facilities. That number that is expected to double by 2031.” Schindel Martin discussed the risk factors for malnutrition among those with dementia, including social isolation and poor quality of social interaction during meals.

“The consumption of food at mealtimes is a way of being connected and honouring identity – for all of us, wherever we live,” said Schindel Martin, who is a strong advocate of healthcare workers sitting down and sharing meals with clients. “Face to face interaction at this crucial moment in their day has so much value.”

The message was clear among all presenters: Good nutritional information, good food – and good mealtimes – are key to living longer, healthier lives.

 

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Doug O'Neill
O’Neill, formerly Executive Editor of Canadian Living, writes on all manner of topics for a variety of Canadian publications – but has a preference for storytelling that gets to the heart of things. “Writing about journeys has always fascinated me,'” says contributor Doug O’Neill, “whether I’m scribbling about my own travels around the world or about other people’s inspiring journeys as they navigate from one life stage to another.”