Food insecurity is a reality for seniors today. The term “food insecurity” is often used instead of the word “hunger” because it more accurately describes the issue at hand, which is lack of access to healthful, nutritious food. The enormity of the problem is highlighted in a recent report by the AARP that describes food insecurity as the lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Whereas hunger specifically describes the physical pain and discomfort an individual experiences from a lack of food.
Food insecurity continues to impact the health and well-being of seniors in America, and as opposed to other health issues, food insecurity impacts the health of seniors beginning with Baby Boomers aged 50 to 59. They are more likely to be diabetic, depressed, disabled, and more likely to report their own health as fair or poor. Food insecurity is a strong predictor of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, pulmonary disease or diabetes.
Among the AARP report’s findings:
- 4.5 million Baby Boomers aged 50-59 are food insecure.
- 28 percent of them report suffering from depression
- 19 percent suffer with Diabetes
- 95 percent have at least one condition that limits activities of daily living
The lack of access to plentiful, good food is impacting senior’s health:
- 1/3 cut the size of meals of skip meals because there isn’t enough food.
- 35 percent buy less nutritious foods because can’t afford nutritious foods.
- One in four adults have both cut the size of meals and purchased less nutritious foods to save money
- Those over 65 are less likely to say it is easy to get affordable foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Making matters worse, the food insecure are less likely to know whether free food outlets exist in their community. While the vast majority – 90 percent of older adults purchase food at supermarkets, those living in urban areas also purchase food at convenience stores and drug stores.
While it would seem that good food is the simplest way to improve seniors’ health, access and affordability can make that difficult. Ensuring that seniors have good nutrition can improve health, avoid chronic diseases and improve quality of life. While large scale solutions may rely on national policy, caregivers can immediately and positively impact the problem of food insecurity.
When visiting seniors, take good food as gifts. Fresh fruit is always good, but if unavailable, try taking dried fruit or frozen fruit, both have high nutrition value.
While juice may be too high in sugar for some dietary limitations, it can be a nutritious gift, especially in winter months.
In season, taking a senior for a ride to the local farm stand can be fun and give them nutritious food at the same time.
Keeping nutrition “top of mind” when caring for seniors can help to address food insecurity, improve their health, and keep good food in their bodies.