Why Are Some Older Americans Going Hungry?

Posted on Thursday, October 6, 2022

Hunger has many faces in America. Most people think of children and people who are unhoused going hungry. But one group experiences high levels of hunger and, importantly, more complications from it: older adults.

According to Feeding America, in 2020 one in 15 US. seniors faced hunger. That’s about 5.2 million people over age 60 who don’t get enough to eat. Food insecurity affects some groups of older adults more than others including people with lower incomes, those who rent versus own their homes, and people aged 60-69.

What’s the difference between hunger and food insecurity? Hunger is a physical feeling of discomfort, pain, and weakness due to not having food over a period of time. Food insecurity is not having access to adequate amounts of food to lead a healthy, active life.

Lack of enough food – especially enough healthy food – can have serious effects on older adults. Here’s why: 

  • Malnutrition – Consuming fewer calories due to lack of food means older adults don’t get the key vitamins, minerals, and protein they need to stay healthy and that can lead to serious health issues which are harder for them to fight.
  • Mental health issues – Living with uncertainty about where their next meal will come from can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety for food insecure older adults.
  • Chronic conditions – Over time, poor nutrition can lead to worse outcomes for seniors and cause chronic health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. About 85% of older adults live with one chronic health condition, 60% have at least two.

Older adults experience food insecurity for several reasons:

  • Many live on relatively low fixed incomes due to factors such as they’re no longer working or receive government aid. With costs increasing – including groceries costs – it may be harder to stretch budgets to afford the food they need.
  • People with lower incomes tend to also live in “food deserts,” areas that have limited access to affordable, nutritious food. They may also live in “food swamps” that have an abundance of fast food or junk food outlets, but not high-quality food.
  • Transportation and mobility issues also make it difficult for some older Americans to grocery shop and prepare meals.

Helping fix the problem

There’s assistance for older adults facing food insecurity. The Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a government program available to older adults, that helps them buy the nutritious food they need to stay healthy and active. Most communities also have food pantries and food box delivery services for people in need.

Home-delivered meals are another good option for older adults. Mom’s Meals® delivers fully prepared, refrigerated meals to people nationwide including nine health condition menus. We offer meals to recipients under certain Medicaid and Older American Act programs.

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