Poverty afflicts more than 20 million older adults across the nation, and hunger is one of its chief manifestations. On a daily basis, more than 10 million seniors don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or if they will even be able to have that next meal. They’re forced into impossible choices between feeding themselves or their families and getting needed prescriptions filled or paying to keep the lights on.
The physical toll
Confronting senior food insecurity requires first and foremost recognizing that hunger is a health issue. Older adults who are food insecure are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have heart problems, and three times more likely to suffer from depression. In addition to the physical burdens, all this creates a steep financial toll, accounting for $130.5 billion a year in additional health care costs.
An economic drain
Senior food insecurity is expensive in other ways as well. Low-income older adults living in disadvantaged communities often don’t have choices on food purchases that can prove economical. A survey of the general public funded by AARP Foundation highlighted dramatic differences. Most of the respondents to the survey purchased store-brand items or shopped at multiple grocery stores to save money.
By contrast, low-income older adults, many of whom live in so-called food deserts, may not have access to generic items or may be unable to comparison-shop either because they have mobility issues and lack of transportation, or because they live in areas with only one grocery store — or none at all, forcing them to shop at more expensive and less nutritious “convenience” stores.
Improving quality of life
The news is not all grim. Innovative solutions are taking hold to tackle the systemic problem of senior hunger, helping low-income consumers improve their nutrition and overall health, and addressing issues like food deserts in disadvantaged areas.
Hunger is only one of the problems low-income older adults face. Unsafe or unaffordable housing and lack of social connections also weigh on their quality of life. It all ties to poverty, and we must make this widespread problem for seniors a top priority.
SOURCE: AARP Foundation, [email protected]