If Senior Food Insecurity is not Addressed, the Population of Seniors Facing Hunger Will Grow to 8 Million by 2050

May 20, 2019

CHICAGOAs part of Older Americans Month, Feeding America® released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2017, a study about food insecurity among seniors in the United States. The report sheds light on the extent to which food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritious food, affects seniors age 60 and older in the United States, offering deeper insights into the experience of food insecurity among the aging population. The report shows that 5.5 million seniors age 60 or older (7.7 percent) were food insecure in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, still above the rate in 2007 (6.3 percent).

More alarming though, the study found that even though the rate and number of food insecure seniors is essentially unchanged from 2016, if the rate remains flat and the senior population grows as projected in the coming years, the number of food-insecure seniors could grow to more than 8 million by 2050. In sum, senior food insecurity is likely to remain a personal and public health challenge in the years to come.

“After a lifetime of working and raising families, it is unacceptable that 5.5 million seniors face hunger,” said Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot. “As a nationwide network of 200 food banks, Feeding America is making significant investments in our senior hunger strategy to understand the barriers seniors face and support programs that increase access to nutritious food for seniors throughout the country.”

In examining the extent of the threat of hunger nationally among seniors in 2017, the report also provides the rates of senior hunger in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, for the first time, the report provides the rates of senior food insecurity in 51 metropolitan areas.

Among the key findings:

  • Food-insecure seniors live in communities across the country, including all 50 states and Washington, D.C. In 2017, senior food insecurity rates at the state level range from 2.8% in Minnesota to 12.3% in Louisiana.
  • In 2017, seniors who live in the southern Unites States are more likely to be food insecure.
  • Senior food insecurity in metro areas varies from 3.0% in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota metro area to 17.3% in the Memphis, Tennessee metro area.

Food insecurity has negative effects for individuals across the age spectrum. For seniors, these effects can be particularly problematic given the unique health, economic, and nutritional challenges that can come with aging. The State of Senior Hunger also finds that food insecurity disproportionately affects seniors in certain socioeconomic groups. Specifically, in 2017, researchers found:

  • Seniors who are racial or ethnic minorities, low-income or younger vs. older (age 60-69 vs. age 80+) were more likely to be affected by some level of food insecurity.
  • Seniors who reported a disability were disproportionately affected, with 25 percent reporting food insecurity.
  • Among food-insecure seniors, six in ten (60.6%) are female.
  • Seniors who live with grandchildren are more likely to be food insecure than seniors who do not. One in six seniors in multi-generational households (15.7%) is food insecure, compared to 7.3% of seniors in households where there is no grandchild present.
  • About two-thirds (65.3%) of food-insecure seniors have income above the federal poverty line, revealing that seniors with relatively higher incomes still struggle to get enough food.

For the third consecutive year, The State of Senior Hunger in America was produced by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity with a nationwide network of 200 food banks. The study was conducted by researchers Dr. James P. Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen and is the source for national-, state- and metro-level information about food insecurity among seniors age 60 and older. An additional report highlighting food insecurity among individuals ages 50-59 was also released for the first time in 2019 as part of The State of Senior Hunger in America study series. The full reports can be found here.

The study was funded by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation through its Fill Your Tank program, a multi-year commitment aimed at fighting hunger made in 2016 in celebration of the company’s 60th anniversary. In addition to funding research efforts, the Fill Your Tank program has contributed to Feeding America’s senior hunger strategy and provided grants to local food banks to support senior hunger programs.


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