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May 2, 2012

A bite and a blether

It’s estimated that one in ten elderly people suffer ‘intense’ loneliness which puts them at increased risk of depression, lack of exercise and bad diet. With the elderly population set to grow by 50% over the next twenty years, the challenges are plain to see. All the more reason to support and expand on the crucial role played by local lunch clubs the length and breadth of the country. A new report from Community Food and Health Scotland highlights some of the best.



For a copy of the full report of a Bite and Blether click here.

Eating lunch with others is something we all do. Lunch clubs that bring people together to do this have been around a long time and those targeted at older people provide a key piece in the jigsaw of services that support older people living in their own homes to eat well. 

The dictionary definition suggests there are two main models of lunch clubs- a social welfare model predominantly aimed at older people and a ‘shared interest‘ model where groups of people get together to network. In fact an internet search throws up a whole range of models – from social networking opportunities for people working at home, to school lunch clubs, healthy lunch clubs, and office lunch clubs. 

The basic model is the same. There is the opportunity to have a meal, often an affordably priced meal, outside of the home and there is also the opportunity to meet with others in a social setting. For older people living on their own both can be equally important.

This publication focuses on lunch clubs for older people in Scotland. There are lunch clubs in communities in every corner of the country. The different ways they operate reflects the rich diversity of different communities and the resources they have to work with. It also reflects an enormous volunteer effort, most often by older people themselves, who give their time and talents to support friends and neighbours. 

An affordable nutritious meal

Lunch clubs are a way to have a meal, usually an affordable meal, outside of the home. For a number of older people a lunch club meal is their only freshly cooked food in a week and some of those interviewed said that it is usually their main meal on the day that they attend.

While the nutritional value of lunch club meals is limited by the fact that clubs often meet just once or twice a week, most clubs are concerned that the food they serve is healthy and nutritious. Often it will meet standards set for either school catering or community meals. As such lunch club meals can play a role in supporting older people to eat a nutritious diet.

The opportunity to meet with others

Equally important is the fact that meals are eaten outside of the home and with others, providing the opportunity for social contact and being out and about in the local community.

“could be in the house all week and not see a soul”

“It’s for the companionship as well as the novelty of having someone else cook; it’s nice to have someone cook for you”

This social aspect is particularly important for minority ethnic communities where members value the opportunity to get together with people who share a common language and culture.

Being active

Some clubs have additional activities alongside lunch. Exercise sessions can impact on levels of physical activity. Information sessions e.g. stroke awareness can impact on managing long term conditions. Benefits information can impact on overall income levels, and electric blanket testing on overall safety and security.

Older people who work as volunteers speak of being involved in ‘something useful’, ‘giving something back to their community’ and being active.

These contribute to long term outcomes in terms of improved health and well being in later life and reduction in health inequalities across their project areas. Substantial outcomes for relatively small inputs. 

Recent research suggests that lunch clubs are highly valued by their members. When asked what they enjoy about attending their lunch club, older people tend to talk about two main things – the food and the opportunity to get together with others.

For a copy of the full report of a Bite and Blether click here.