Neighbors of all ages and demographics can experience bouts of food insecurity — meaning they can’t access or afford enough healthy food for a period of time. When neighbors over age 60 become food insecure, however, these periods of time often stretch into the long-term.
For many seniors, retirement actually poses no real threat to their food security because fixed incomes can offer stability and protect them from hunger. This is one reason why food insecurity rates are lower for seniors (5.8% in Michigan) than younger people. But for other seniors who experience decreased earnings upon retirement, having a static income can make it difficult to make ends meet. Younger people can more often break the cycle of hunger by finding a higher-paying job. In contrast, food-insecure seniors are often trapped on low, fixed incomes for the rest of their lives.
Therefore, most seniors rarely experience changes to their food-insecure status. This, over time, can lead to numerous health problems related to nutrition. These outcomes are particularly problematic considering the health, financial and nutritional challenges aging adults face — ultimately making traveling to stores, carrying groceries or cooking meals more difficult.
Some groups of seniors are more at risk than others. Being disabled, unemployed, female or a renter can increase their risk of being food insecure. Additionally, food-insecurity rates are higher among younger seniors. One hypothesis for this is that sadly, the health implications associated with food insecurity could cause early deaths.
Other groups of seniors are at increased risk as well. African American and Hispanic seniors are both more than twice as likely to be food insecure than Caucasian seniors.
No matter their situation, seniors who are food insecure face an increased risk of chronic health conditions.
Senior hunger isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, incoming seniors (ages 50-59 now) are expected to face higher rates of food insecurity because their earning years were unstable due to events like the dot-com bubble, the 9/11 downturn, the great recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. The demographic and health trends among these older adults are similar to those for current seniors, but the magnitude is often greater (e.g. 26.6% of disabled older adults are food insecure while only 22.5% of disabled seniors are). As a result, older adults currently experience higher rates of food insecurity. With the senior population expected to grow in the coming decades, trends among older adults provide insight into the future challenges the next generation of seniors may face.
The strength of the charitable food sector, as well as the federal nutrition programs that serve seniors and older adults, will be essential to ending hunger in the years to come. Please give today.