All animals need food to survive, and, historically, food scarcity has been a persistent concern for most human societies. These days, as modern agriculture is
capable of producing high quantities of nutrient-rich food, malnutrition is increasingly rare—especially in developed nations. Nevertheless, food scarcity remains a serious issue, particularly
among vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. For example, it is estimated that about 5.2 million seniors in the United States were facing food insecurity in
Without the proper resources or assistance, senior citizens may become malnourished. This could result in weakened immune systems, starvation, and various other
health problems. Given the stakes, looking deeper into the reasons why seniors are particularly
at risk is important.
Why the Elderly Are Especially Vulnerable to Food Scarcity
Although the likelihood of food insecurity declines as people age, the actual harm food insecurity can cause an individual increases with age. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)
reports that 4.4 percent of individuals aged 50-59 suffer from “very low food security,” dropping to 3.9 percent among individuals aged 60 to 69, and 2.1 percent among those 70 or older. However,
as just noted, there is an important caveat: older folks who do experience food insecurity might suffer more serious consequences. Older adults on fixed incomes, or those with restricted
mobility, sometimes struggle to obtain their food. Even making a simple trip to the grocery store can be a daunting challenge. In the event of a crisis—say a pandemic, or severe weather—elderly
individuals are more likely to get overlooked, or forgotten altogether.
Many older adults do not have adequate access to transportation, and, even if they do, they often find it difficult to navigate a store, or carry the heavy bags of
groceries where they need to go. Having the funds to purchase the food is another challenge, though research suggests that vulnerable seniors find the total shopping experience to be more arduous
than maintaining the job that allows them to afford groceries in the first place.
Naturally, as the body ages, cooking and household chores become increasingly difficult. Whether it’s chopping vegetables, scrubbing pots and pans, making beds, or
changing light bulbs, aging will eventually cause these once simple tasks to become a struggle.
Risk Factors For the Elderly
While any senior can struggle with food insecurity, there are certain factors that greatly increase risks. Poverty is an obvious risk
factor because—across all age groups—folks with little or no money will find it challenging to afford food. Similarly, unemployment often leads to poverty, and we know that barriers to accessing
the labor market only seem to increase as we grow older.
If elderly people live in a home with children under the age of 18, they are more likely to forgo their own meals to feed younger loved ones. This, in turn, can
cause them to become under– or malnourished. Additionally, having disabilities, being Black or Hispanic, or living in the south are all factors that can contribute to food scarcity.
Food insecurity can become a problem for almost anyone, but it is an especially serious risk for seniors. Fortunately, government agencies, non-government
organizations (NGOs), volunteers, and others are working hard to relieve scarcity. We should all be grateful to those willing to donate their time, money, or food; they are literally saving
Organizations can fight food scarcity in other ways than literally providing food; they can arrange for food delivery, offer assistance with cooking, or help with
other household chores. For the vulnerable, these types of services can be the difference between enjoying one’s golden years—or merely surviving them. With this in mind, Jewish Family Service
serves as a bridge between the life-enhancing resources in a community—and the people who need them. Depending on specific needs, we can connect you or your loved ones with food and financial
assistance, care management, and so much more. Visit us online or call our helpline at 513-469-1188 to start getting the care and support you deserve.