Feeding America® and The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) recently released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2016, a study about food insecurity among seniors in the United States. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough nutritious food. The report shows that 4.9 million seniors age 60 or older (7.7 percent) were food insecure in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. Although the current food-insecurity rate has declined recently, it remains substantially above the rate in 2007 (6.3 percent).
Despite improvements in the economy, millions of seniors in the U.S. are not able to afford enough food. Seniors with the lowest incomes are most at risk of being food insecure. Yet about two-thirds of food-insecure seniors have income above the federal poverty line, and many likely do not qualify for federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
“Many Older Americans encounter a myriad of issues the general population does not face, including health conditions, transportation challenges, and physical limitations,” said Feeding America President Matt Knott. “At Feeding America, we are looking at ways to address food-insecure seniors’ unique needs, so that they can live fuller, more food-secure lives, with as much dignity and independence as possible.”
The issue of food insecurity among the elderly is larger than the lack of access to nutritious food alone. Research also demonstrates that food insecure seniors are at much greater risk of being diabetic, suffering from depression, having congestive heart failure, experiencing a heart attack or having asthma than food-secure elders.
“This 2016 report brings mixed news,” said Enid A. Borden, Founder, CEO of NFESH. “On the one hand, a smaller percentage of seniors experienced food insecurity than in the previous two years – which is a clear demonstration that our efforts to raise public awareness and to address this national tragedy through programs at the community level can make a difference. But the bottom line is that more than twice as many older citizens struggled with lack of adequate food to remain healthy in 2016 as did in 2001.”
As the number of seniors in the U.S. is expected to grow substantially over the coming years if nothing changes millions more seniors will experience food insecurity.
This latest report documents the characteristics of seniors who struggle to meet their nutritional needs. Specifically, in 2016, researchers found:
Seniors who are racial or ethnic minorities, low-income or younger vs. older (age 60-69 vs. age 80+) were most likely to be affected by some level of food insecurity.
Seniors who reported a disability were disproportionately affected, with 24 percent reporting food insecurity.
Senior food insecurity rates vary by state, ranging from 3.4% in North Dakota to 14.1% in Louisiana. Seniors living in the South are more likely to experience food insecurity than seniors living in other parts of the country.
In examining the extent of the threat of hunger nationally among seniors in 2016, the report also provides the rates of senior hunger in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2016 was produced by Feeding America in partnership with NFESH. The study was conducted by researchers Dr. James Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen and is the source for national and state-level information about food insecurity among seniors age 60 and older.