Food insecurity a growing issue for seniors, compounded by pandemic

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

senior-eating

Photo: Ross Pollack via Flickr

While people in parts of the U.S. slowly return to work and leisure activities, food insecurity remains a serious issue for many Americans, according to a June Census Bureau analysis. It’s an especially concerning problem for older Americans, who may still be hesitant to leave their homes to go grocery shopping, especially if they must rely on public transportation

The pandemic has worsened the problem of food insecurity among older adults. Feeding America’s most recent report found that that 5.3 million seniors, or 7.3% of the senior population, were food insecure in 2018.  In the wake of COVID-19, they estimate that some 54 million Americans of all ages may face hunger in 2020.

As this story in Forbes highlights, “more than 20% of American households are experiencing food insecurity,” as of June, 2020.  Community groups are coming together to help address this issue, as WBEZ recently reported, but there’s always a need for more volunteers, more donations, and more resources, as the economy continues to sputter, CBS News reported.

Certain sub-populations of older adults are at particular risk. The percentage of LGBT people who did not have enough food to eat is more than twice the proportion of food insecurity in the general population, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. LGBT adults experience food insecurity and participate in SNAP at higher rates than non-LGBT adults. Add risk of compromised immune systems from other conditions like diabetes or heart disease, and it’s not hard to see why some elders would rather risk going hungry than going to the store for groceries.

In some locations, it’s not the 65+ crowd that’s at highest risk of hunger; this story describes how 50-59 year old Kentuckians are actually the most vulnerable — Kentucky’s food insecurity rate among adults in this age group was 17.3% in 2018. “Disruptions to food supply chains, employment, and social services from COVID-19 may have worsened disparities,” notes this summary from Futurity.

A new tip sheet offers story ideas and resources for reporting on this issue in your community: for example, many older adults qualify for federal or state assistance, such as SNAP, but are unaware of their eligibility for these programs; senior centers that used to serve nutritious, congregate meals to attendees have transitioned to home delivery, but this approach can’t fulfill  the important socialization element of having meals with friends; volunteers who used to transport older adults living in food deserts to supermarkets are often older themselves and have halted or cut back on this service. Who is picking up the slack?

The tip sheet can help you hone in on issues that need attention from policymakers, as well as find some uplifting stories that can help older adults get through this crisis a little more easily.

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