For many, the idea of hunger and food insecurity evokes images of third-world countries or struggling families with school-age children relying on school programs to eat. But food insecurity is an issue that often impacts seniors, especially those who have limited mobility and require outside resources for assistance. In fact, 5.2 million older Americans (7%) face food insecurity according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Many older adults can’t rely on getting enough food to live a healthy and active life. For those who are juggling the cost of food and medications, many seniors may end up eating less food than they need or skip meals to stretch their budget. And when they do eat, seniors with limited resources may choose inexpensive food items that lack dietary quality and variety, which can lead to worsening health conditions.
Feeding America states that food insecurity disproportionately affects older adults who have lower incomes, are younger in age (60-69), or rent instead of owning a home. Race and ethnic minorities are also more likely to experience food insecurity, as many food deserts exist in minority communities compared to white counterparts. Those seniors residing in the South (e.g., Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama), unemployed, living alone, living with a disability, or living with grandchildren also face higher rates of food insecurity.
What’s the impact of food deserts?
Chronic disease in seniors is a very strong predictor of food insecurity. Low-income older adults are 69% more likely to face food insecurity and face a 65% decrease in the quality of food in their area, based on national survey data. According to one study, older adults with two to four chronic conditions and five or more chronic conditions are 2.12 and 3.64 times as likely to be food insecure, respectively, than older adults with no or one chronic condition. Food deserts lead to lower levels of calcium and protein in seniors, as well as contributing to higher rates of diabetes (74%), depression (262%), congestive heart failure (71%), and asthma (78%).
What can be done?
There are many available food programs currently in place to help assist those who may live in a food desert or be struggling with food insecurity. These programs are available to seniors across the country, however, 48% of eligible seniors don’t participate in food programs. Lack of participation is often the result of psycho-social issues: chronic disease, family issues, transportation, personal mobility, cultural stigma, technology misunderstandings, and barriers in knowledge.
At ConcertoCare, we understand that social and environmental factors play a role in the health of caring for seniors, and our social workers help to review and address senior food deserts and resolve issues surrounding food insecurity. Many patients can enroll in one or more food assistance programs due to the help of our social workers and care teams. In many instances, programs such as Commodity Supplemental Food Program(CSFP) or Meals-on-Wheels have improved the diets of patients and helped to reduce chronic health issues related to poor diet.
How to help
If you’re having trouble affording healthy food, or if you know an older adult who is, help is available. One of the most common solutions to food insecurity in the U.S. is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is a need-based, government anti-hunger program that helps eligible older adults buy the food they need to stay nourished, healthy, and active.
In addition to SNAP, you can explore other food assistance programs for older adults including