November 20, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 61 — Staying vigilant, and food insecurity

As the race continues to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the public is holding its breath for what is perceived as the answer to life getting back to normal. But Aaron Carroll, of the Indiana University School of Medicine, says while an effective vaccine suppression of the disease is entirely realistic, it doesn’t mean we can all relax now and start doing more things. Instead ,he says it means we need to tighten up even further until the vaccine becomes available. Carroll says the goal is no longer to learn to live indefinitely with the virus. It’s to get as many people through the winter as possible without getting sick. Keeping the infection rate low is important, because that’s what will allow us to push the virus into the ground as quickly as possible once we have the vaccine in hand. Carroll says it’s always been hard to convince people to make good choices when considering sacrifices. Uncertainty around when we’ll get an effective vaccine has made it even harder. While cutting off in-person interactions for an uncertain stretch of time is excruciating, Carroll says it may be more palatable to hunker down if it’s only for a defined period. With Thanksgiving taking place next week, and cases continuing to rise, Carroll says indoor social gatherings are more dangerous than at any point since the spring. Thanksgiving dinners are ideal settings for “superspreader” events: They crowd people from all over around a table to talk, laugh and drink, often in poorly ventilated rooms. Furthermore, many families stuff themselves into houses for an entire long weekend. While the news that we are getting closer to an effective, COVID-19 vaccine is good news, Carroll says it would be a tragic mistake to relax our vigilance. Instead, he says we should continue to mask up, stay home and consider canceling or limiting our Thanksgiving plans. This is still a marathon, but the end is much closer than before.

In other news, as families prepare to sit down to enjoy a feast at Thanksgiving, some populations, including senior citizens, are dealing with food insecurity. A new IU study looked at residents in four Indiana counties to learn more about food provisioning methods -- the ways seniors "make do" with the food resources they have. Seniors who participated in the study reported that living alone decreases their motivation to prepare balanced meals and reduced joy from eating. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse, the survey found, significantly increasing seniors' feelings of loneliness, making them feel left out and isolated. While 7 percent felt "isolated" often or sometimes before the pandemic, 61 percent felt so after the pandemic started. Dan Knudsen, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Geography, says the sharp increase in feelings of isolation may speak to a need for a mental health push this winter, a season that is bad generally for seniors, and this year, may be devastatingly so. In contrast, seniors who live with children and/or grandchildren explained that sharing in shopping and cooking routines and eating together with families helped them to eat better. Other barriers to food access included transportation, limited income, and lack of appropriately nutritional foods. Seniors often have distinct food needs to manage health conditions such as renal disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure or cholesterol. They are often prescribed foods low in sodium, sugar or phosphorus or high in potassium or calcium, which are largely not available to them through food programs. The IU study will conclude in summer 2021 with a series of workshops to devise strategies to relieve food insecurity among senior citizens in the region.