Across the United States, elderly individuals in Latino communities are suffering from what is deemed a “silent” health crisis by many experts: malnutrition. The problem is becoming so rapidly prevalent that experts fear it may turn into a full-blown epidemic if not addressed accordingly.

According to a recent study conducted by New America Media, at least a third of elderly residents in senior communities, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals in the United States are suffering from poor nutrition.

“Malnutrition is a serious and under-recognized problem among older adults,” nutritionist Nancy Wellman told Latinohealth.com.

The problem of malnutrition is particularly an issue for Latino elders due to low-income subsistence.

“Access to healthy foods may be a problem for them,” said nutrition professor Noel Chavez in an interview with Salud Today.

With little access to basics such as dental checkups and medication, Latino seniors experience higher rates of food insecurity, isolation, and loss of appetite.

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And malnourishment doesn’t only affect weight loss. Rather, not having the nutrients your body needs can have serious effects on the memory, immune system, and oral health. Periodontal disease, a oral health problem that affects 74% of the population, is often sped up and exacerbated by lack of proper nutrition in one’s diet.

“A big issue for our senior population is the lack of protein. Without enough of it, their immune system is not as strong; even medications cannot be transported to the body effectively. They may be getting enough calories, but if their diet doesn’t have enough nutrients, this is what happens,” said researcher Lauri M. Wright from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in a separate New Media report.

And not only is this detrimental to the health of Latino elderly individuals that are suffering from malnutrition and the associated complications, but it ends up being more costly. Medical bills for patients suffering from malnourishment can cost triple compared to their nourished counterparts.