The Link Between Food Insecurity and Poor Health in Seniors

Our next series of articles discusses the benefits of healthy eating and how seniors can incorporate this into their daily lives. For seniors residing in senior living communities, their chefs increasingly include locally sourced produce into the meals. Elders living on their own can buy produce from local growers at their the farmer’s market. Fortunately, even those on a limited budget can eat healthily and we’ll discuss state and federal programs that are available to aid seniors on an fixed income. In the following post we will focus on the health issues that result when food insecurity threatens healthy eating habits, a reality that is far more prevalent for seniors than many people realize.

Nearly 1 in 12:  that’s the number of seniors in the United States in 2011 who “had limited or uncertain access to enough food to sustain a healthy lifestyle” according to the Spotlight on Senior Health Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans report produced by Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

This food insecurity translates into tangible effects that affect a senior’s quality of life and health. Of the nutrients that are found in our diets, iron and protein are especially important for seniors. Yet seniors experiencing food insecurity consume 14 and 12 percent less of these nutrients than food secure seniors. They also consume fewer calories.

Consuming fewer calories and nutrients results in irreversible health issues. “Food insecurity was found to be negatively associated with nine diseases and other negative health conditions,” according to the report. Though heart attacks are an expected health risk as seniors age, food insecure seniors are more than 50 percent more likely to report a heart attack than their peers with access to food. Remaining independent also proves challenging, as they are 22 percent more likely to experience limitations with activities of daily living. Food insecure seniors are also 60 percent more likely to be depressed.

Even though all ages experience food insecurity, for seniors the health implications are much more significant. The study found that even food insecure seniors with higher incomes still experienced health issues, as a result  “it is clear that food insecurity affects health and well-being independent of income levels,” the report concludes.

Earlier this year, we had a clearer picture of the number of seniors experiencing food insecurity through the release of The State of Senior Hunger in America 2013:  Annual Report. Using the 2013 data collected from the Current Population Survey, researchers estimate that 15.5 percent (9.6 million) seniors experienced food insecurity, an increase of 300,000 more than 2012. Seniors between the ages of 60-64 reported the highest percentage (18.62) compared to 12.54 percent of seniors 80+. Women were more likely to experience food insecurities than men, and employed seniors experience the threat of senior hunger at a lower percentage than seniors who are unemployed or disabled.

The distribution of food insecure seniors differs from state to state. Minnesota has the lowest estimate of threat of senior hunger at 8.30 compared to Arkansas which reported 26.10. Unfortunately with the estimates showing that the threat of senior hunger only increasing, the authors warn that the United States will be face additional public health challenges, especially because of the health issues that result from food insecurity.

 

** Images taken from Spotlight on Senior Health:  Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans and The State of Senior Hunger in America 2013:  Annual Report.

 

 

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