Feeding America Study Finds Senior Hunger Rates Had Not Recovered From Great Recession Before Start of COVID Pandemic

New study finds rate of senior food insecurity remained unchanged in 2019

August 18, 2021

Feeding America today released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2019, a study about seniors facing hunger in the United States. The report sheds light on the extent to which food insecurity – or having limited access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy lifestyle – affects individuals age 60 and older.

The report shows that out of 74 million seniors age 60 or older in the United States, 5.2 million were food insecure in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. The 2019 rate of food insecurity among seniors – 7.1% – remained higher than the pre-Great Recession rate in 2007 of 6.3%. Since it is estimated that the senior population will grow to 104 million by 2050, if the current rate of senior food insecurity does not improve, then more than 8 million seniors could be food insecure.

One program that can provide additional support to seniors facing hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Two-thirds of people who receive benefits from SNAP are kids, seniors, and people living with disabilities. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an update to the Thrifty Food Plan which will result in the largest increase in benefit levels for people participating in SNAP. Still, only 42 percent of eligible seniors participate in SNAP compared to 83 percent of all eligible people.

“The reality is that senior food insecurity will likely remain a public health challenge for years to come,” said Ami McReynolds, chief equity and programs officer at Feeding America. “Now is the time to act so that no senior in America ever faces hunger again. As the largest hunger-relief network and the largest provider of application assistance for SNAP, Feeding America is committed to helping address senior hunger, though we cannot do it alone.”

The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2019 measures food insecurity among seniors in 2019 at the national level and provides rates of senior hunger in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and for 51 large metropolitan areas.

Among the key findings:

  • Food-insecure seniors live in communities across the country, including all 50 states and Washington, D.C.  In 2019, senior food insecurity rates at the state level ranged from 2.9% in Minnesota to 13.5% in the District of Columbia.
  • The 10 states with the highest rates of food insecurity were located in the South and West.
  • Senior food insecurity in metro areas varied from 2.3% in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota metro area to 13.7% in the Memphis, Tennessee metro area.

Food insecurity has negative effects for individuals across the lifespan. 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 2019 also finds that food insecurity disproportionately affects seniors in certain socioeconomic groups. Specifically, in 2019, researchers found:

  • Seniors who are part of certain racial or ethnic minority populations, low-income or younger vs. older (age 60-69 vs. age 80+) were more likely to be affected by food insecurity.
  • In terms of race and ethnicity, 15.2% of Black seniors were food insecure and 5.9% of white seniors were food insecure. Among a category consisting of seniors who are Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native American, and people who identify as multi-racial, 8.0% were food insecure. Additionally, 13.5% of Latino (Hispanic) seniors were food insecure compared to 6.4% of non-Hispanic seniors.
  • Seniors with disabilities (13.3%) had food insecurity rates over twice as high as seniors without disabilities (4.9%).
  • Among food-insecure seniors, an estimated six in ten (58.9%) were female. 
  • Seniors who live with grandchildren were more likely to be food insecure than seniors who do not, 15.5% compared to 6.6%.
  • Nearly half (49.1%) of food-insecure seniors had income above the federal poverty line, revealing that seniors with relatively higher incomes still struggle to get enough nutritious food.
  • Seniors who are renters (18.3%) were close to four times more likely to be food insecure than seniors who are homeowners (4.7%).

In addition, this year’s The State of Senior Hunger in 2019 report series includes findings from the 1999-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food insecurity is associated with worse nutrition and health outcomes for seniors regardless of racial/ethnicity, age, gender, education, and marital status. Findings show that food insecure seniors consumed lower quantities of key nutrients and for a wide array of health outcomes like depression, asthma, heart disease and diabetes, food-insecure seniors were worse off than food-secure seniors. Seniors are at high risk of serious illness as a result of COVID-19, especially seniors with many of these health conditions. 

For the fifth 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. Craig Gundersen and Dr. James P. Ziliak and is the source for national-, state- and metro-level information about food insecurity and very low food security among seniors age 60 and older. An additional report highlighting food insecurity among individuals ages 50-59 was also released as part of The State of Senior Hunger in America report 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 made in 2016 in celebration of the company’s 60th anniversary and one of the largest donations aimed at fighting hunger. In addition to funding research efforts, the Fill Your Tank program, which was recently extended for an additional five years as part of Enterprise Holdings ROAD Forward initiative, has contributed to Feeding America’s senior hunger strategy and provided grants to local food banks to support senior hunger programs.

Learn more about senior hunger at feedingamerica.org and join the conversation about The State of Senior Hunger using #SolveSeniorHunger.


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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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