At AARP Foundation, we’re looking for every microphone and megaphone and social media tool we can find to spread the word about the silent epidemic of older adult hunger in our country.
But we know that building greater awareness—among the public and among policy makers—is just the beginning. It will take careful, continuing analysis to position all of us for the most effective possible action.
Let me turn now to a brief analysis of some of the dimensions, causes, and consequences of older adult hunger.
The problem of food insecurity is not limited to the unemployed or to older adults on fixed incomes. Our report showed that up to 20 percent of working class older adults earning $30,000 to $35,000 a year are also experiencing food insecurity.
Unemployment, underemployment and low incomes are significant risk factors for older adult hunger. But they are hardly the only ones.
Older adults who live alone or who are disabled and have limited mobility are at particular risk for isolation and for food insecurity.
Households in which grandparents live with grandchildren are also at greater risk for food insecurity because many of them are stretching their limited food budgets to feed younger family members. The number of grandfamilies has grown steadily in recent years.
Food insecurity disproportionately affects African Americans and Latinos. Even when the data is controlled for income, older African Americans are 30 percent more likely to be food insecure than their white counterparts in the same income bracket. From 2001-2009, African-Americans and Hispanics 50-59 were twice as likely to be at risk of hunger as whites.
Our report also shed light on the relationship between food insecurity and health. There is an important role here for Governor Branstad’s Healthiest State Initiative, which is bringing together dozens of public and private sector groups, including AARP.
Food insecure older adults are twice as likely to be diabetic as their food secure peers.
They are five times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly 25 percent less likely to be in excellent or very good health compared to their peers who have sufficient food.
Poor nutritional status among older adults has been associated with an increased risk of hospital acquired infections, greater hospital costs, longer hospital stays, and higher mortality rates.
Given the crucial link between hunger and health, we need to intensify and broaden collaboration between anti-hunger groups and health service providers and the public health community.
And that points to the importance of allies for all of us fighting hunger. At AARP Foundation, we are firm believers in the multiplier effect. Working with other charities and organizations we can achieve far more than we can alone.
I would like to suggest two complementary approaches to alliance building. I believe both approaches are needed.