What comes to mind when thinking about food insecurity for seniors?
Food insecurity — lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life — is a serious and growing problem for older adults. About eight to 10 million people over age 65 struggle to find, pay for, prepare, or consume a nutritious, varied, balanced diet.
It’s a challenge that’s expected to worsen as our population ages and socioeconomic disparities increase.
Food insecurity is a strong predictor of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and lung disease. It can also contribute to or worsen mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Government programs and services are available, but limited funding means not everyone who needs it qualifies for help. Social determinants like poverty, neighborhood characteristics, transportation and social isolation also contribute to food insecurity. Quality, affordable food may not be available locally, lack of public or private transit options make it difficult for seniors to shop outside of their neighborhoods, homebound older adults may lack a support network of family or friends who can assist; waiting lists are long and application processes can be arduous for federal, state or local programs.
In addition to its effect on chronic disease, older adults who are chronically food insecure suffer other health problems such as low muscle mass, increased fatigue, impaired cognition and increased hypertension. In turn, this can lead to increased risk for falls, limited mobility, reduced ability for self-care, and ultimately a forced move into institutional care.
Food insecurity among older adults isn’t a problem that’s going away any time soon. Shedding additional light on the problem can help those who need services and educate policy makers that more must be done to address this issue.
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs, through the Area Agencies on Aging, administers state and federally funded meal and nutrition education programs with outreach services.
Approximately 425 congregate sites in Florida serve thousands of meals daily. The Congregate Meal Site Program provides nutritionally balanced meals, nutrition education, and nutrition risk screening for Floridians aged 60 years and older and their spouses, and encourages socialization and better health through disease prevention and health promotion programs. In addition, nutrition counseling may be available in some areas. The served meals meet nutritional standards by incorporating the recommended dietary guidelines for Americans and providing a minimum of one-third of the dietary reference intakes.
The program is funded by the federal Older Americans Act (OAA), participant donations, and local funds. Services are provided through a network of eleven area agencies on aging and their contracted service providers. Congregate dining facility sites include senior centers, churches, senior housing facilities, and other community focal points. For additional support please visit the Department of Elders Affairs in the state of Florida.