Senior Hunger — What to do if you are Food Insecure

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Can you imagine not knowing where your next meal is coming from? More than 3.4 million older Americans can identify with food insecurity, and it’s a growing issue.

What is food insecurity?

A somewhat broader term for hunger, the issue of food insecurity includes availability, access and use. First, do you have consistent and adequate quantities of food on a regular basis? Does you have income or the ability to find food? And lastly, do you have the knowledge and ability to choose and prepare healthy meals?

It’s more than just a money problem. Sure, food costs money and many seniors face a fixed, low income. But consider transportation limitations, health and mobility problems that prevent a person from moving around a kitchen, preparing a healthy meal. If you are wheelchair bound or in a lot of pain, you’re not grocery shopping and clattering around in the kitchen.

Risks of hunger for seniors

The elderly are at high risk for health problems and emotional issues if they face food insecurity, and research has shown that seniors who are hungry show significantly lower intakes of important nutrients than their non-hungry counterparts. An aging body often has unique nutritional needs and not meeting those needs leads to heightened vulnerability to a number of problems, including:

  • disease and illness
  • chronic illness and fatigue
  • infection
  • depression and other mental health problems

Services for food insecure seniors

Awareness is key, and there are services for seniors who are food insecure. Meals on Wheels is a national organization with local branches in nearly every community. Driven in a large part by volunteers, Meals on Wheels delivers nutritional meals and contact with others to homebound seniors. Connect with your local Meals on Wheels organization through a zip code search on their website.

Feeding America, a well-established hunger relief charity in the U.S. is dedicated to feeding the hungry through a national network of more than 200 food banks, feeding nearly 3 million elderly each year. Feeding America’s website lists all of their member food banks by state, organized by zip code.

Many older Americans are eligible for food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but studies show the elderly are least likely to participate because of mobility and technology barriers, the stigma of participating in a food stamp program and the belief that the benefits were minimal. But the fact is, the monthly benefit for qualifying seniors over 60 was slightly over $100 in FY 2009. Learn more about SNAP online or call their toll-free number, 1-800-221-5689.

When you or your loved one is struggling to choose food, medicine, heat or other utilities because of rising costs, or you go too long between meals because of physical limitations that keep you from preparing something nutritious to eat, it may be time to look into services that help seniors find healthy nutrition and avoid food insecurity.