I consider myself lucky because, from the very start of my professional career, I was clear on what I wanted to do: help underserved communities. I wanted to make a difference by working in public health.

Health is a person’s biggest asset. Naturally, health is a priority for the aging population, but the reality is that information and nutritious food is not always fairly distributed or accessible to them. This is especially true for minorities, such as the Hispanic community in the U.S.

By 2060 the aging Hispanic population is expected to grow to 21.5 million. While more than 32% of this population lacks health insurance, economic and food insecurity are also prevalent issues among older Hispanic adults, placing this population at a higher risk for a number of chronic diseases, including obesity and diabetes.

In my work as President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), we make sure that older adults get adequate information and access to fitness and healthy food. Our partners are essential to achieve that mission, which is why I’m excited about NHCOA joining Herbalife Nutrition’s Nutrition for Zero Hunger (NFZH) initiative.

The New Face of an Ongoing Partnership

NHCOA has partnered with Herbalife Nutrition since 2014. They have supported our health and nutrition programs, including residents of our senior housing facility Casa Iris, ensuring they have access to healthy nutrition through ongoing product donations that make good nutrition convenient for our residents. Since 2019 that is more than 2,200 meals and 5,000 servings of healthy snacks.

How Does NHCOA Support Healthy Aging in Hispanic Older Adults?

The ongoing partnership with Herbalife Nutrition under NFZH will continue to support the three main ways in which we promote healthy aging for Hispanic older adults:

1. By educating older adults about health and nutrition.

When people are equipped with the right information, they thrive. NHCOA provides materials, resources and education to empower older Hispanic adults to learn, take action and adopt healthier habits. We’ve seen how accessible health information can motivate people to do amazing things with themselves, their families and their communities.

The Health and Wellbeing program, NHCOA’s evidence-based flagship program, consists of training sessions focused on general knowledge about diabetes, obesity, cancer, risk factors, and ways to prevent those diseases. Participants also receive information on healthy eating habits and physical activity. NHCOA also engages in several advocacy campaigns, such as prevention of HIV and other STIs.

Dr. Cruz Providing Healthy Aging Education

Making these connections means a lot to me. As an immigrant myself – I came to the U.S. when I was 9 years old – being able to give back to society and improving lives is important to me.

2. Through making healthy food accessible.

Our Health and Wellbeing program also focuses on nutrition and physical activity for older adults. We provide free one-hour physical activity classes three times a week. It’s amazing how exercise can boost someone’s mood, energy and happiness.

To support overall health, an active lifestyle needs to be accompanied by good nutrition. Sometimes older adults are too fragile to cook or have a hard time with meal preparation.  Our partnership with Herbalife Nutrition aids NHCOA in supplementing the diets of Hispanic older adults while ensuring they are receiving proper nutrition.

We’ve incorporated food supplements from Herbalife Nutrition into our Health and Wellness program. This way, in addition to their regular meals, we are able to provide older adults with a shake or a protein bar. Because of this support, we are able to enhance and have a more robust nutrition program that goes beyond just providing nutrition education on what people should be eating, but actually providing nutritious products.

The pandemic has significantly impacted our community, specifically with increased needs for food, nutrition, health information and access to information. As a result, we worked with Herbalife Nutrition to change our approach, meeting individual needs of our residents. By providing individual nutrition packages including products and blenders to make Formula 1 shakes at home, healthy snacks and nutrition education materials including tips and recipes provided in Spanish to ensure materials are accessible, since access due to language is still a big barrier.

3. By training the next generation of caregivers.

Currently there are 3.6 million older adult Hispanics in the U.S., constituting eight percent of the aging population. This number is expected to grow to 19.9 million by 2060. People are living longer lives, and very soon we will need more caregivers.

The most substantial cultural value common among the Hispanic population is the high priority accorded to family. It is also the value that is most likely to remain in place regardless of migration and increased acculturation.

However, in the Hispanic community, often times, the person taking care of someone doesn’t identify themselves as a caregiver. They just jump right into the job without realizing what it takes and how difficult it is to care for someone.

Caring for older adults can be overwhelming because they need special attention on many areas: psychological, emotional support, making nutritious meals, making sure they take their medicine on time, making sure they get enough exercise. Plus, there is the delicate balance of trying to help them while still respecting their right to make choices for themselves.

NHCOA has a robust program for training caregivers. A major focus of that program is self-care, equipping caregivers with the tools to know how to take care of themselves so that they can be well prepared to care for their loved one.

We also train them on the importance of communication and preventive measures. Sometimes caregivers are sick, depressed, and can even end up losing their job because of the pressure. Our program tries to prevent those situations by finding a balance between the needs of their loved one and the caregiver needs.

How You Can Support the Aging Hispanic Community

Corporate partners such as Herbalife Nutrition allow NHCOA to continue working building a stronger America in which we can all age securely, with greater self-sufficiency, and in the best possible health. As an individual, you too can support our work.

For instance, you can donate so we can continue to expand our efforts to address the issues facing Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers nationwide.

Our ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for Hispanic aging population, ensuring they lead the golden years of their lives with the dignity, respect, and care they deserve.

For more information, visit our website at nhcoa.org or reach out to us at nhcoa@nhcoa.org.