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Food Insecurity Leaves People Over 60 Hungry

Study says millions don't get enough to eat because they can't afford it

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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.

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“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.

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“Some of these households may seemingly have enough income, but they hadn’t anticipated feeding their grandchildren,” Gundersen says. “If the grandparent doesn’t have custody of the child, it may be difficult for her or him to get their SNAP [food stamp] benefits increased to include the child.”

The report concludes that there is an urgent need to address the problem of hunger among older Americans before population trends cause the numbers to skyrocket even further.

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“In 2017, there were 70.5 million seniors living in the United States,” it says. “By 2050, it’s estimated the senior population will grow to 104 million. If the current rate of senior food insecurity does not change, more than 8 million seniors will be food insecure.”

Since 2011, AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger campaign has been raising awareness about the problem of food insecurity among older adults, meeting the daily food needs of hungry seniors and working to find permanent solutions to end senior hunger. For more information about this initiative, visit the Foundation website.

“More than 10 million older adults are at risk of hunger every day,” says Emily Allen, senior vice president of Programs for AARP Foundation. “Older adults who are food insecure are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes and 60 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure. Research shows that food insecurity costs older adults in the U.S. an estimated $130 billion annually in additional health care expenses. So, senior hunger is not just an individual issue — it is an issue that has implications for families, communities and society.”

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