Seniors facing increased rates of food insecurity

April 24, 2014

Recent research at the University of Illinois using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that one in 12 seniors face food insecurity, which can also lead to declines in health when consumers aren’t getting the nutrients they need.

“In 2011, 8.35% of Americans over age 60 faced the threat of hunger—that translates to 4.8 million people,” said Craig Gundersen, University of Illinois Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy in the Dept. of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory, who led the data analysis on the study.

Reduced access to food means that seniors take in fewer calories, vitamins, and other nutrients, putting them at greater risk for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, gum disease, and high cholesterol, among other problems. Additionally, food insecure seniors were also more likely to limit daily activities and suffer from depression.

Seniors entering their golden years are likely to continue this pattern. The wealth of data allowed researchers to compare seniors older than 60 with those ages 50–59. According to the researchers, this younger age group reported nutrient intake and quality of health statistics that mirrored the older age group.

Some seniors may be sacrificing their share of food to provide a higher-quality diet for other members of their household. “Food insecurity rates among seniors were almost three times as high if grandchildren were present in the home in comparison to homes without grandchildren present,” said Gundersen. “And those seniors with grandchildren in the house had lower nutrient intakes than those without grandchildren. We think this may be because adults in households with grandchildren are foregoing healthy diets in order to make sure their grandchildren have enough to eat.”