Hunger and malnourishment among the elderly has been an ongoing concern in our nation. It has long been closely associated with lower income households and minorities. As the elderly population continues to rise, hunger is seeing its largest increase within the minority populations, and by the time 2030 rolls around, older minorities are expected to grow by 125 percent. Yet elderly people as a whole are facing increased hunger and malnourishment.
Food Assistance Programs for the Elderly
Feeding America is a charitable food assistance program for older Americans. They service roughly 7 million seniors aged 60 and up each year. Three-fourths of participants with the program claim they depend on the service annually for their nutritional needs and need the financial help to supplement their limited monthly budget.
Food assistance programs are a vital component to communities seeking to help the elderly age in place for as long as possible. According to Feeding America, a food insecurity problem affects roughly 9% of the senior citizen population in our country. That equates to roughly 1.2 million food insecure seniors each year who wouldn’t have food in the pantry, let alone healthy meals in the fridge or the means to prepare them, without the help of food assistance programs.
Food Poor Doesn’t Always Equate with Poverty
Despite a large portion of seniors who depend on charitable food assistance programs, the majority of seniors are able to afford healthy food. They run into a different problem. Researchers have found that health problems, lack of social support, and functional impairments hinder their ability to eat well. They have the money to buy enough healthy food yet lack the ability to go out and purchase it or the means to prepare it at home.
Food Insecurity and Health Problems
There is a direct relationship between food insecurity and chronic health problems. According to the study conducted by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America, seniors with food insecurity are much more likely to develop certain health conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes. There is a 40% increased risk to develop congestive heart failure, a 22% increased risk to experience limitations in their daily lives, and a 53% increased risk of having a heart attack. Depression is also a health risk. Food insecure seniors are 60% more likely to report depression, a chronic condition that is not a normal part of aging.
What is the Best Proposed Solution?
Researchers have been pointing out the ethical unacceptability of the presence of elder hunger and food insecurity in our nation for decades. Many grassroots nonprofit organizations and government assistance programs have striven to fill in the food insecurity gap. Nutritional services are a vital component to the overall endeavor of ending elderly hunger and malnourishment; however, these programs have been around for many decades as well. They expand as the population continues to expand and yet we still have a high food poverty rate in our nation.
…functional impairments limited the food resources available for household consumption the most.
Researchers with the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University looked at the role functional impairments had in food insecurity. These functional impairments may include diminished mobility, emotional disorders, dementias, and hearing or visual impairments. They found that functional impairments had the greatest impact on food insecurity. Functional impairments were not dependent on demographic and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, lower education, race-ethnicity, and/or knowledge of and participation in a food program. In fact, functional impairments limited the food resources available for household consumption the most.
The conclusion is that the best method for ending elder hunger and malnourishment in a sustainable way is through social support to help prepare, cook, and even provide the food. This may come through food assistance programs for those who live alone, yet it shouldn’t take the place of family and friends offering support on a regular basis.
Feeding America. Senior Hunger Facts. Available at http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/senior-hunger/senior-hunger-fact-sheet.html. Last Visited March 21, 2016.
Feeding America. (2013). Spotlight on Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans. Available at http://www.nfesh.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/SeniorLiteratureReport-Final-Draft.pdf. Last Visited March 21, 2016.
Lee, Jung Sun, and Frongillo, Edward A., Jr. (2000). Factors Associated with Food Insecurity Among U.S. Elderly Persons: Importance of Functional Impairments. The Journals of Gerontology, 56(20: S94-S99. Available at https://psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/2/S94.full. Last Visited March 21, 2016.