Partnering to Improve Population Health

by Karen Díaz Serrano Health Educator, Feeding Tampa Bay

In 2017, nearly 8% of US households with adults aged 65 and older were food insecure, meaning that they lacked consistent access to enough food for a healthy, active life. As older adults already face challenges for maintaining an active and healthy life, food insecurity can have an adverse impact on the well-being of this population.

The Hunger Action Alliance (HAA) in Tampa Bay, Florida is a collaboration of organizations which include Feeding Tampa Bay, University of South Florida, and Humana have dedicated to studying the effects of hunger on health. A recent study, Factors Affecting Health in Older Adults, measured the relationship between food insecurity and Healthy Days among older adults. In a paper published in January, we report our findings that food insecure participants reported more physical unhealthy days and days with activity limitations. Food insecurity not only limits access to food, but also limits social interactions. The ability to share meals and interact with others plays an important role in overall health. In turn, higher social support can create a buffer effect and improve food security and health.

“It is not surprising that limited access to food can negatively affect health in older adults and that other factors – including isolation- can put older adults at risk of food insecurity,” states Emily McGrath, Humana Medicare Divisional Product Lead.

As it is estimated that 20% of the U.S. population will be comprised of older adults by 2030, additional research must be conducted on how to limit food insecurity and its effects. Research is needed to study individuals’ relationships with food and explore the coping mechanisms used to combat food insecurity among this population. Findings can be leveraged to detect unmet health needs and develop preventative health strategies.

“We have to think about the health of an individual holistically – and about how to address the contributing social determinants through benefits and targeted interventions, as a means to improving health,” McGrath explains.

Client participating in fresh produce distribution.

With the help of dedicated partners like Humana, the HAA aims to further raise awareness and understanding of the complex issues related to food insecurity. Through research and education, effective strategies can be developed to combat hunger and the health effects that come with it.

“Research of this type helps to prove the importance of access to healthy food for good health, especially the health of our seniors.” says Thomas Mantz, Executive Director of Feeding Tampa Bay. “We are well-positioned to take this information to craft food security information that better serve those in need in our community.”

Karen Díaz Serrano serves as the health educator for Feeding Tampa Bay and is currently enrolled at the University of South Florida to obtain her PhD in Medical Anthropology.