Posted on February 7, 2022 by Amanda Cerreto

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today.

FEBRUARY 8, 2022 — UTSA professor Sarah Ullevig has been selected to receive a three-year, $1.18 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address older adults' challenges to access health care as a result of COVID-19.

The pandemic highlighted and increased disparities in health access and outcomes for older adults in San Antonio and nationwide. Ullevig, an associate professor of nutrition and dietetics in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy (HCaP) , hopes to close this gap. The NIH grant will go toward efforts to offer a training course to older adults and collect data.

Senior centers have traditionally provided hot meals in a congregate setting, opportunities for socializing and educational outreach. Due to the pandemic, however, many of these centers were closed to indoor activity. During the closures, the centers' five-day congregate meal service was transitioned to twice-a-week curbside pickup distributing the five meals and delivery for those not able to pick up meals.

"We aim to increase access to nutrition information that will promote healthy aging."

Compounding these challenges, at the same time when food insecurity has reached a new height, many local seniors have been isolated without access to internet technologies.

Ullevig will be working with a team of UTSA researchers to advance the project. Her co-investigators include Erica Sosa , associate dean for research and associate professor in HCaP's Department of Public Health; public health professors Meizi He and Zenong Yin ; and Tianou Zhang , assistant professor in HCaP's Department of Kinesiology.

The researchers will work with the City of San Antonio's Department of Human Services and Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP to implement a plan to increase access to and develop a comprehensive understanding of technology among San Antonio's older adult population. OATS will provide the devices, internet access, tech support and a five-week training course to the target population. UTSA will provide a 15-week digital nutrition intervention entirely online following the technology course.

The UTSA team is currently designing the nutrition intervention and assessing the needs of older adult community members and staff in San Antonio's senior centers.

"We aim to increase access to nutrition information that will promote healthy aging," Ullevig said. “This collaborative project has the potential to positively impact the older adult community by addressing disparities worsened by the pandemic. Providing older adults with the skills and knowledge to access information online can extend well beyond our project and has a potential broader application through the senior congregate meal program nationwide.”

The UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy was created to improve the well-being of communities and affect change for complex social issues. This grant award will directly impact HCaP's mission by closing the gap between older adults and technology-based services to improve their overall health and wellbeing.

This project is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01NR020303. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

— Amanda Cerreto