Older adults can stay connected and avoid social isolation in these unprecedented times, thanks to the Iowa Department of Public Health's SNAP-Ed program, Fresh Conversations!
Fresh Conversations is designed to help low-income older adults stay independent by promoting healthy eating and active living. It is a SNAP-Ed program created by the Iowa Department of Public Health, within the Bureau of Nutrition and Physical Activity. Fresh Conversations is a research-tested, evidence-based direct education program in the SNAP-Ed Toolkit. Participants are actively engaged in the learning process with a facilitator and/or interactive media each month.
Older adults living in poverty are nearly twice as likely as those living above poverty level to have limitations in their ability to live independently. During the pandemic we quickly learned that older adults are at greater risk of social isolation. Older adults were fearful of leaving the comfort of their own homes, not allowing them to see friends or family. With so much time spent at home, many older adults also saw increases in their sedentary time. In addition, rising food insecurity rates left more older adults without access to quality and affordable healthy food options. With in-person programming at meal sites, libraries, and community centers halted, older adults were left with limited opportunities to engage with their peers and lead healthy eating and active living lifestyles.
July 2020- Present
Fresh Conversations acted and started offering meetings virtually by live computer-based meetings and through conference calls. Although the meeting focuses on nutrition and physical activity, it gives the chance for older adults to participate in a group discussion with a trained facilitator and their peers. Fresh Conversations Coordinators offer technical assistance and troubleshooting to help older adults get logged on to meetings.
March 2021- Present
In the spring and summer of 2021, socially distanced in-person meetings started to pop up again. Participants that couldn't access virtual programming due to lack of technology/technology knowledge hadn't been connected to their peers for over a year! Food tastings were still restricted but Coordinators pre-made and packaged foods, allowing participants to still taste the recipe at home. An additional benefit to bringing back in-person meetings is that many classes are held at meal sites or community centers. This gives older adults access to food, financial resources, physical activity opportunities and more.
“Even with the restrictions of still wearing a face mask and keeping socially distant, I could feel the excitement in the room! The participants were happy to see each other again and socialize during the meeting!”
- Stephanie Labenz, Fresh Conversations Coordinator
Fresh Conversations will continue to offer meetings in-person (as state and federal regulations allow) and virtually. Most of Fresh Conversations participants prefer in-person programming in a pilot study. However, we found that older adults had minimal technical difficulties with virtual programming, enjoyed the meeting formats, and would attend again.
Hailey Boudreau, Fresh Conversations Program Manager