J Korean Diet Assoc.  2013 Aug;19(3):298-308.

A Qualitative Study on the Experiences of Congregate Meal Services from the Low-income Elderly

  • 1Department of Nutritional Sciences & Food Management, Ewha Womans University, Seoul 120-750, Korea. seo@ewha.ac.kr
  • 2Combination Research Center for Health Science, Ewha Womans University, Seoul 120-750, Korea.


The elderly population in Korea is rapidly growing. As the population ages, meals become a greater concern, as physical and psychological health problems are directly affected by dietary life, especially for the lower-income elderly. Although the government provides support through a free congregate meal service, there is a lack of systematic management of this meal service. This study investigates the experience of the elderly, especially the symbolic meaning and issues regarding the congregate meal service in their dietary life, to establish strategies for improving congregate meal services. Qualitative data was collected from ten elderly receivers of meal services through in-depth interviews and data was analyzed using Colaizzi's phenomenological research methods. Overall, 90 significant statements, 13 formulated meanings, and five theme clusters were deduced. The five theme clusters for the importance of meal services to the elderly included the followings: "a real meal", "enjoyment of living", "maintenance of regular life", "place for social life" and "meal of silence". We found that the elderly regarded the congregate free meal service not only as meals to appreciate but also as a form of social life. Furthermore, the elderly did not typically express any complaints regarding congregate meal services because they are free. The results showed that it might be difficult to evaluate the quality of meal services based on the opinions of the service receivers. This study suggests it is necessary to develop multilateral evaluation methods to reflect the needs of the elderly and to improve the congregate meal services at elderly welfare centers.


low-income elderly; qualitative approach; congregate meal service; welfare services
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