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Gerontologist. 2000 Feb;40(1):86-96.

Nutritional self-management of elderly widows in rural communities.

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  • 1Department of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 25717, USA.


Studies of the nutritional status of older adults (by marital status) and of older women recently widowed suggest that widows are nutritionally vulnerable. Yet few studies have examined nutrition-related behaviors among widows to see why this is true. We conceptualize these behaviors as nutritional self-management strategies, encompassing behaviors related to obtaining food, consuming it, and maintaining food security. Data come from in-depth interviews conducted with 64 widowed women age 70+ in rural North Carolina (23 African American, 24 European American, 17 Native American). Transcripts were coded and analyzed using a systematic text-analysis procedure. Length of widowhood ranged from less than 1 year to 39 years. Themes identified in recent widows' interviews and corroborated in those widowed longer indicate that there are varied responses to widowhood. Some may have a positive impact on nutritional strategies (e.g., following own dietary needs), but most are likely to be negative (e.g., meal skipping, reduced home food production, less dietary variety). Rural communities need to develop ways to identify such widows and assist them in finding acceptable ways to meet nutritional needs.

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