Professor and associate director of the Center for Translational Health Research Larry Fulton and his team are developing a free food delivery app, Nutrition for Underserved Elderly via Application (NUEVA), aimed at helping the elderly population of adults in central Texas .
Fulton and his team are using a $2.76 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fund the development of NUEVA. The app’s goal is to reduce food insecurity and loneliness as well as improve nutrition and quality of life for people aged 60 and over. The grant can be renewed for up to five years.
“I think it’s important to the community, and so I think we can do a really good job here,” Fulton said. “Once we heard we were going to get funding, we started working immediately before the funding arrived.”
A nutrition grant through HHS and the Administration on Community Living is responsible for implementing the American Seniors Act which addresses malnutrition. Within the app, there will be a nutrition assessment, according to Lesli Biediger-Friedman, associate professor and head of nutrition and outreach for NUEVA.
“We are working on initiating a systematic review of the literature on the use of technology for public health topics in older adults,” Biediger-Friedman said.
Development of the app started in August, but the idea for NUEVA came much earlier.
“COVID has changed the way our seniors can interface,” Fulton said. “The logical step is [to] support community action here in San Marcos, and focus on using technology to provide a mechanism to provide them with food, to provide them with contact, assess how they are doing for mental health, overall health, nutrition and food security.
Part of the initial development of NUEVA involves creating the application itself, which is coded by Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Apan Qasem.
“Thanks to Dr. Apan Qasam, we have both Android, iOS and Internet apps, about 10% have developed a connection to the back-end,” Fulton said. “So we have mock-ups of this that are actually already working.”
This app is meant to help people in need, and there will be a screening process to determine which services each individual will be eligible for.
“There is a screening process for individuals to receive meals,” Fulton said. “We don’t just do meals, that’s our focus, we also do grocery delivery.”
Deliveries will be made by pre-existing organizations in central Texas, according to Oren Renick, a professor at the School of Health Administration.
“We’re going to have to do is build relationships with existing senior transportation services that exist, you could say from Georgetown to San Antonio,” Renick said. “So there’s a whole corridor of colleagues and potential collaborators to get food delivered.”
Alpha testing of NUEVA with a small population will begin in spring 2023 and allow opportunities for feedback.
“We’re going to work slowly to perfect it and fix the issues,” Renick said. “So from our perspective, it’s about adapting what’s known to the unknown, linking the application to the operations.”
NUEVA’s goal is to improve the health of older people in relation to their nutrition.
“We’re able to have really informed conversations about how to make sure we’re reaching more people. Then, in addition to not just reaching people, assessing malnutrition and providing intervention,” Biediger- Friedmann. “One of the things that will really help is the collection of data that enables nutritional intervention.”
The app and data collection may enable the potential delivery of medically appropriate meals in the future.
“Right now, medically-adapted meals are not something that’s very possible to deliver logistically, we’re potentially seeing how we can adapt meals appropriately,” Biediger-Friedman said. “The app just allows us to have those conversations with the people who are already doing it. So we’re not stepping in and replacing them. We’re stepping in and helping them optimize that. I think that’s really important .”
NUEVA has the potential to be used beyond central Texas, according to Biediger-Friedman, and the potential to change lives.
“As we learn more about populations who are further disenfranchised, this provides additional opportunities for this particular program to have a huge impact on our communities and help older people live healthy independent lives too. as long as possible,” Biediger-Friedman said.