Nearly 5.5 million adults 60 and older in 2017 were food insecure — meaning that they often went hungry because they could not afford food — according to a study released this week.
The report from Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that operates a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs nationwide, says that even though food insecurity for the overall population declined from 2016 to 2017, the number for adults over 60 remained largely the same. In 2016, there were 5.3 million seniors living with hunger.
“We know that the number of seniors is going to keep on increasing. So even if the rates stay the same, the number of seniors who are food insecure will be expected to increase quite dramatically in the coming years,” says Craig Gundersen, a professor at the University of Illinois who coauthored the report. “Food insecurity among seniors is not just an issue for those who are poor.”
The study was based on data gathered from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. That poll was conducted in December 2017, and the data was released last September, making it the most current data available on food insecurity. This is the third year Feeding America has published the “State of Senior Hunger in America” report.
The 5.5 million adults 60 and older who were food insecure comprise 7.7 percent of all the people in that age group. The report, which was coauthored by James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky, surprisingly found that the rates of hunger were higher among people ages 60 to 64 than it was for those who were older. Among adults over 60 who were food insecure, more than one third (37.5 percent) were ages 60 to 64, while 1 in 10 (9.9 percent) were 80 and older.
“We thought the picture of a senior who was suffering from food insecurity would be an 82-year-old living by themselves in a rural area,” Gundersen says. “Of course, there are many, many people who fall into that category. But the real face of senior hunger is those in that 60-to-65 group.”
The report also found that older adults who lived in the same household with their grandchildren were more likely to experience hunger. Roughly 1 in 6 people 60 and older who lived in a multigenerational household (15.7 percent) were food insecure, compared with just 7.3 percent of seniors who did not reside with grandchildren.