Number of older Americans lacking access to safe, affordable food is rising, study finds

The percentage of older Americans facing the threat of hunger is rising, according to a new report released Wednesday by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger. Of Americans age 60 and older, 15.3 percent, or 9.3 million, face the threat of hunger, defined as lacking access to safe, affordable food at all times. Food insecurity is associated with poor health outcomes among older people.

Since the onset of the recession in 2007 until 2012, the latest year figures were available, the percentage of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger increased 28 percent. The number of Americans 60 and older during that period rose from 51.6 million to 60.4 million, or 17 percent.

The highest incidence of older Americans facing the threat of hunger was in the South and Southwest, among racial and ethnic minorities, and among those with lower incomes. People in their 60s were at greater risk than older respondents, according to the report, which used statistics from the 2012 Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

In their early 60s, many people “are kind of transitioning from work into retirement, and . . . may not have access to the health safety net,” said James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research and a co-author of the report. “So some of the folks may face this trade-off between paying for prescription drugs versus feeding themselves.”

The rate was more than twice as high among people with grandchildren living with them, which Ziliak said is likely due to grandparents who are heads of the household being placed under greater financial strain than those with no grandchildren at home.

State to state, the highest percentage was in Arkansas, at 25.4 percent, and the lowest was in Minnesota, at 8.1 percent. Virginia had 11.95 percent, up from 8.4 percent the previous year, and the District had 15.2, up from 12.1 percent the previous year. Maryland stayed almost level during that period, rising from 13.5 to 13.9 percent.

Tara Bahrampour, a staff writer based in Washington, D.C., writes about aging and mental health.
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