According to a new survey, one in five older Americans does not have enough food
According to a University of Michigan (U-M) study, more than 20% of older persons in the United States will experience food insecurity in their 60s and 70s.
The study, lead by University of Michigan researcher Helen Levy, looked at the likelihood that older persons may have food insufficiency, or not having enough to eat, at some point over a 20-year span.
She discovered that the chance of food insecurity over a longer period of time was nearly three times as high—22% versus 8%—than at any single moment in time. The results of the research were published in the journal Applied Economic Perspective Policy.
“The magnitude of elder food insecurity in any given year is extensively established. Food insecurity was reported by 2.8 percent of Americans aged 60 and up in 2019.
This may appear to be a modest percentage from some views “Levy is a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s Survey Research Center. “However, it still implies that over 2 million seniors were hungry, and the incidence of suffering over a longer period of time will almost definitely be higher.”
According to Levy, who is also a research professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and the School of Public Health, “there is no study on how many older persons endure food shortage over a lengthy period of time.”
To address this, Levy used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel study of older Americans conducted by the Survey Research Center at ISR with funding from the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration, to look at a 20-year period in an older adult’s life.
The Health and Retirement Study uses a yes/no question to assess food insecurity. “Have you always had enough money to buy the food you need in the last two years?”
new respondents are asked. Participants who have already taken part in a survey wave are asked the same question about the time period since the previous wave. Levy focused his research on people born between 1936 and 1953.
Food insecurity is especially prevalent among some demographics in their 60s and 70s, which spans a 20-year period. During that time, over 40% of those without a high school diploma, 37.5 percent of non-Hispanic Black respondents, and nearly 44 percent of those in poor health at baseline will face food insecurity.
Even those with low rates of food insufficiency at baseline (the year they initially answered to the panel survey), according to Levy, can have higher rates of food insufficiency in the long run.
For example, the baseline rate of food insecurity among college graduates is 3.9 percent, but 13.2 percent of this group will experience food insecurity within the 20-year period. Food insufficiency affects only 3.9 percent of individuals in good health at the start, but 17 percent will do so in the long run.
“These findings show that food insecurity is not confined to a tiny group of persistently poor senior people, but is instead a very ubiquitous component of later life, affecting one in every five Americans in their 60s and 70s,” Levy said.
Food insecurity is also a fleeting experience for many seniors, according to Levy. Around half of individuals who report food insufficiency once over an eight-year period do so only once, while about one-fifth of those with any food insufficiency do so more than half of the time.
While earlier study has shown that poverty is a significant predictor of food insecurity, most older persons who face food insecurity aren’t impoverished, according to Levy.
“It’s possible that brief and protracted periods of adversity occur for different reasons,” she speculated. “For example, if you are unable to find adequate job hours and your income decreases, you may experience a brief time of food insecurity.
However, if the issue is a chronic health condition, individuals may endure long-term hardship, even with SSI or SNAP benefits.”
Future research, according to Levy, should employ longitudinal data to investigate the dynamics of food-related challenges and whether they affect the health of older persons.