Feeding Kentucky has announced the release of Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2017 and The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2017, two studies about food insecurity among older adults in the United States published by Feeding America.

The reports shed light on the extent to which food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritious food, affects older adults in the United States, offering deeper insights into the experience of food insecurity among the aging population.

Food insecurity means having limited access to enough food due to a lack of income. Food insecurity is strongly associated with income, but is not limited to people living in poverty.

The Hunger Among Adults report finds that Kentucky has the highest rate in the nation of food insecurity among adults age 50-59.

Nationally, the food insecurity rate among adults age 50-59 was 11.3 percent while in Kentucky the rate was 18.6 percent. The data are from 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.

The State of Senior Hunger report shows that Kentucky’s 8.4 percent food insecurity rate for seniors age 60 or older was also higher than the national average of 7.7 percent in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.

“Too many older adults and senior citizens in Kentucky are struggling to put food on table after decades of hard work,” said Feeding Kentucky Executive Director Tamara Sandberg. “They are faced with agonizing choices such as paying for food or paying for medicine. We must do more to ensure that the golden years are truly golden for every Kentuckian.”

Key findings of the studies include:

• Overall, the change in the rate and number of food-insecure seniors from 2016 to 2017 is not statistically significantly different. The rate and number of food-insecure seniors has gone down since reaching a peak in 2014, but they remain substantially higher than in 2007, before the Great Recession, when 6.3 percent of seniors were food insecure.

• In 2017, seniors who live in the southern United States are more likely to be food insecure.

• Seniors who live with grandchildren are more likely to be food insecure than seniors who do not. One in six seniors in multi-generational households (15.7 percent) is food insecure, compared to 7.3 percent of seniors who do not reside with grandchildren.

“The high rate of food insecurity among 50-59 year olds in Kentucky is very concerning, both on its own, and because of research showing that food insecurity is associated with many negative health outcomes,” said Dr. James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky's Center for Poverty Research and co-author of the reports. “Onset of poor health at this age portends greater challenges for aging in place as these older adults approach retirement.”

For the third 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. This is the first year Feeding America has produced the Hunger Among Older Adults report. The studies were conducted by researchers Dr. James P. Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen. The full reports can be found at https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/senior-hunger-research/senior.

The 5.5 million seniors make it about 1 in 12 that are food insecure.

Although the rate has fallen in recent years, it still remains above pre-recession levels.

A single person living in poverty earns under $1,012 per month and average monthly social security benefit is $1,461. That means one in five seniors work at least part-time.

Because of so many near the poverty line, many low-income seniors face spending tradeoffs that can lead to and worsen food insecurity.

According to the study, seniors are more likely to experience food insecurity if they are racial/ethnic minorities, divorced, separated, or never married, living with grandchildren, disabled, unemployed, or female.

Poor health can be both a cause and consequence of food insecurity. Disability and disease decrease capacity for stable employment and increase healthcare costs. Poorer nutrition increases risk for disease and challenges of disease management.

That leads food-insecure seniors to have more chronic health conditions such as depression, asthma, chest pain, and high blood pressure.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays a critical role in reducing food insecurity as nearly five million households with a senior receive an average of $125 in SNAP benefits. However, only two in five SNAP-eligible seniors are enrolled.

Join the conversation on social media using #SolveSeniorHunger.

Feeding Kentucky (formerly Kentucky Association of Food Banks) is comprised of seven Feeding America food banks that reach all 120 counties of Kentucky and serve an estimated one in seven of all Kentuckians annually. Last year, its members distributed 64 million meals in partnership with more than 800 charitable feeding agencies such as pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. For more information on how you can fight hunger in your community, visit FeedingKy.org.

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, they 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.

Brad Stacy can be reached at bstacy@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.