04/03/2013 04:01 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Online tool helps seniors identify risk factors leading to poor nutrition

TORONTO - A new online survey created by the Dietitians of Canada aims to help older adults improve their eating habits.

The questionnaire — called Nutri-eSCREEN — is designed to raise awareness and educate, says its creator, University of Waterloo professor Heather Keller.

"A lot of the population might not be eating Canada's Food Guide, but older adults are particularly vulnerable because they start to have social, functional and economic challenges as they age," she said.

For example, they may be on a fixed income, or mobility issues could create challenges buying groceries.

And, if they have lost their partner in life, they are sometimes not as interested in cooking, opting instead for eating easy-to-make foods, which might not provide enough nutrients.

Keller cautioned that even though many older adults are more sedentary they still require nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium and actually need more than people in their 40s.

"Older adults need more protein ... because their bodies aren't very efficient at using it and now we're finding that that's leading to sarcopenia which is low muscle strength and mass which is highly associated with ... falling, not being able to walk," she said.

A recently published Statistics Canada report, Nutritional Risk Among Older Canadians, found that 34 per cent of Canadians who were 65 or older were at nutritional risk. The study, based on the findings of the 2008-2009 Canadian Community Health Survey, also showed that women are more likely to be at risk than men.

The 14 questions developed by Keller and found on the EatRight Ontario website take less than 10 minutes to complete. Residents can speak for free with a registered dietitian at EatRight Ontario or communicate via email. The service is available in more than 100 languages.

Dietitians of Canada operates EatRight Ontario with the financial support of the Ontario government.