This year, for the second time, Feeding America produced The State of Senior Hunger in America. Feeding America first produced the study and released it with the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) in August 2017 (between 2008 and 2017, the report was produced and released by NFESH). The annual report documents the prevalence and characteristics of seniors age 60 and older who experience food insecurity and provides food insecurity rates for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data included in the 2018 release are from 2016.
Key findings from The State of Senior Hunger in America 2016 include:
- Nationally, the food insecurity rate among seniors was 7.7%, meaning 4.9 million individuals, or 1 in 12 seniors, were food insecure in 2016.
- Overall, the rate and number of food-insecure seniors declined over the past two years. However, the current rate of food insecurity among seniors remains substantially above the pre-recession rate in 2007 (6.3%), and the current number of seniors who are food insecure is still more than double the number in 2001 (2.3 million).
- Prompted by the aging of the Baby Boomers generation, the number of seniors age 60 and older is projected to increase in the coming decades and may top 100 million by 2050. If the 2016 food insecurity rate (7.7%) does not change, the population of food-insecure seniors in the U.S. may exceed 8 million.
- At the state level, senior food insecurity rates vary, from a low of 3.4% in North Dakota to a high of 14.1% in Louisiana.
- Senior food insecurity rates vary by age, gender, income, race/ethnicity, employment/disability, location, marital status, and the presence/absence of a grandchild in the household.
Poor health can be both a cause and a consequence of food insecurity for seniors. As part of the 2017 release, a report on the health implications for food-insecure seniors titled The Health Consequences of Senior Hunger in the United States: Evidence from the 1999-2014 NHANES was produced. This report found that a nutrient-rich diet is vital for good health and well-being as the consumption of key nutrients helps fuel the body, fight against illness and disease, and sustain mental acuity. The analysis concluded that food-insecure seniors consumed fewer calories and lower quantities of key nutrients than their food-secure peers. Additionally, food insecurity has been linked to an increased risk of experiencing chronic health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure and others across the lifespan. While food insecurity is linked to many negative physical health outcomes for seniors, it is also strongly associated with mental health outcomes, including depression.
Seniors face several unique medical and financial limitations that put them at risk for food insecurity. To better understand the complex relationships between food insecurity, older age and other factors, Feeding America releases timely and relevant research on older adult and senior hunger. With this knowledge, Feeding America works to address senior food insecurity through innovative approaches that consider the unique challenges older generations are facing – mobility and transportation barriers, physical limitation, dietary restrictions, etc. The current state of senior food insecurity and the anticipated growth of the senior population underscores the critical roles public and private institutions can have when partnering to end senior food insecurity in America.
For more information, please visit feedingamerica.org to view the full report and the two-page infographic about senior hunger. For more information about senior hunger and health, visit the senior page of HungerandHealth.org.
Kayla Hanley is the Research & Learning Specialist at Feeding America.