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Food Security Among Older Adults: Research

as many as one in seven older adults reported experiencing food insecurity

Our Commitment to Understanding Food and Nutrition Security

Food insecurity is a major problem for older adults in America. In 2018, some 9.8 million adults over 50 were classified as being food-insecure, and the pandemic has only made matters worse — as of March 2021, as many as 1 in 7 older adults reported experiencing food insecurity.

AARP Foundation is committed to improving our understanding of the causes of food insecurity among older adults and of ways to address it. We have both commissioned new research and collaborated with other organizations to expand on existing research.

We are also committed to improving the nutrition security of older adults, which is defined by the USDA as having access to “sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Research Reports

The following research reports were either commissioned or supported by AARP Foundation as part of our commitment to improving food and nutrition security.

Food Security Research

Effects of the Pandemic and Boosted Food Assistance

Many older adult SNAP participants reported that emergency food assistance and boosted SNAP benefits helped them purchase more food and healthier food during the pandemic.

AARP Foundation conducted a survey in July-August 2021 to learn more about the experiences of older adult SNAP participants during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to assess the impact of food assistance. Key findings:

  • Many respondents reported improved food security during the pandemic
  • Despite increased assistance, respondents still struggled to get enough food every month
  • The pandemic disproportionately affected the food and financial security of Black and Latinx respondents and those between the ages of 50 and 59

Older Adult SNAP Access

This AARP Foundation commissioned report, created by Social Policy Research Associates, provides details about older adult SNAP participants and non-participants, including profiles of each and the barriers or pain points experienced throughout the process of becoming aware of SNAP, deciding to apply, applying, enrolling, and recertifying in the program. The report also highlights various waivers and program changes that have sought to simplify the SNAP enrollment and recertification process for seniors.


ESAP State Enrollment Data Collection Project

AARP Foundation’s Elderly Simplified Application Project (ESAP) State Enrollment Data Collection Project sought to measure the effects on food security among older adults who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through an ESAP application. The research, conducted by Mathematica, spanned a timeframe before and during the pandemic, coinciding with the issuance of the SNAP emergency allotments authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This allowed us to compare changes in food security when older adults received the maximum benefit for their household versus normal benefit amounts.


Envisioning a New Future for Congregate Meals

Despite the pandemic’s challenges, congregate meal programs found ways not only to continue but also in many cases to grow their services. This issue brief by the American Society on Aging describes what we can learn from this experience to envision a new future for congregate meals.


Baby Boomers and Beyond: Facing Hunger after Fifty

This Feeding America report, funded by AARP Foundation, highlights the circumstances of older adults age 50 and older who receive charitable food assistance through the Feeding America network of food banks.

Nutrition Security Research

Healthy Aging-Nutrition Matters: Start Early and Screen Often

This study by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, funded by AARP Foundation, reviewed the nutrition research of older adults to determine the importance of nutrition on healthy aging. While the risk of developing chronic conditions increases with age, recent research indicates that nutrition is more important for healthy aging than generally recognized. Disease-specific nutrition interventions can prevent, slow the progression of, and in some cases effectively treat conditions associated with aging.


Nutrition Over 50: A Special Report on Low-Income Adults Over 50

This International Food Information Council (IFIC) study, in collaboration with AARP Foundation, sought to understand how low-income adults over 50 translate new health concerns, such as cardiovascular and heart health, weight management, and new concerns around issues like physical and cognitive abilities, self-sufficiency, and digestive health into action at the grocery store and in the kitchen. It also aimed to better understand how low-income older adults think about their nutrition and health, and how they are motivated to make positive changes.

AARP Resources

Public Policy Institute Research

Health research topics such as SNAP and SNAP access during the pandemic


Includes household food security status by age and sex, and age and race/ethnicity

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