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How common is food insecurity among older adults?

March 08, 2018

Social issues such as hunger, inadequate housing, social isolation, and poverty are linked to poor health, especially as we age. When community organizations and healthcare systems coordinate with each other, they are better able to help us address these concerns individually and as a society.

Food insecurity occurs when people lack access to food or go hungry due to poverty or other challenges. Food insecurity is a serious problem for many older adults. For example, in 2015, 8.3 percent of American households with a family member aged 65 or older and 9.2 percent of all older adults experienced food insecurity.

A research team from the Institute for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente, Colorado, designed a study to learn more about food insecurity and older adults. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers examined information from a health survey that was given to more than 50,000 older adults between 2012 and 2015. The survey was part of a free Annual Wellness Visit for Medicare members in Kaiser Permanente Colorado. It included a question about food security.

More than 50,000 people answered the question about food insecurity. More than 2,950 people (almost 6 percent) said that they did not always have enough money to buy the food they needed.

The study revealed that:
  • Food insecurity was least common (4.8 percent) in people 85-years-old or older.
  • Food insecurity was most common (6.2 percent) in people between the ages of 75 and 84.
  • More than 25 percent of people with both Medicaid (government insurance for people living below the federal poverty line) and Medicare (government insurance for older adults) reported having food insecurity.
Food insecurity was more common among: Food insecurity was reported by 10 percent or more of people who had:
  • Fair or poor general health or quality-of-life
  • Oral or dental problems
  • Trouble with bathing, eating, dressing, and performing other activities of daily living
  • A poor diet (they ate no fruits or vegetables, or they ate fewer than two meals a day)
  • No one to call for help
The researchers said that ways to identify food insecurity in older adults needed to be combined with methods to connect older adults with community-based food resources.
-end-
This summary is from "Food Insecurity among Older Adults in an Integrated Health Care System". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are John F. Steiner, MD, MPH; Sandra H. Stenmark, MD; Andrew T. Sterrett, PhD; Andrea R. Paolino, MA; Matthew Stiefel, MPA, MS; Wendolyn S. Gozansky, MD, MPH; and Chan Zeng, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

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