Investigating senior hardships and food insecurity

UKCPR, with underwriting from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, currently oversees 17 research projects that focus on American seniors, ages 60 and older. The projects comprise three topical domains: (1) Describing households with food insecure seniors, including, but not limited to, factors such as functional status and ability to live independently, access to transportation, mental function, spousal health status, and social network and family connections; (2) Understanding factors underlying participation and re-certification in food assistance and other safety net programs; and (3) Evaluating the causal impact of food and non-food assistance programs on health and nutrition outcomes, as well as related outcomes such as consumption trade offs.

The funded projects were awarded through two competitive rounds, with eight awarded in 2019 and nine more in 2019. In total, UKCPR awarded $2.4 million in research contracts..

The impetus for this new research initative is recognition that Increasing numbers of seniors in the United States are going without enough food due to economic constraints, and this has not abated in recent years even in the midst of an improving economy and financial markets. Begininng with the pathbreaking 2008 study, The Causes, Consequences, and Future of Senior Hunger in America, UKCPR Director James Ziliak and Craig Gundersen of University of Illinois, have conducted a series of studies with the support of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), Feeding America, AARP Foundation, Merck Foundation, and the Meals On Wheels Association of America. As reported in the recent "The State of Senior Hunger in America 2016: An Annual Report," in 2016 13.6% of persons age 60 and older were marginally food insecure, 7.7% were food insecure, and 2.9% were very low food secure, which translates into 8.6 million, 4.9 million, and 1.8 million seniors, respectively. As depicted in the figure, this is an increase of 45% since 2001 in the fraction food insecure, and a doubling of those classified as very low food secure.


Following are reports produced for UKCPR's research initiative, funded by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service under contracts 12319818C0010 (Round 1 papers published under series 2022) and 12319819C0006 (Round 2 papers published under series 2023).


Food insecurity among older adults

Reducing hunger risk among older Americans requires a concerted policy effort that is informed by rigorous research on the extent, causes, and consequences of food insecurity. In this report we provide a comprehensive portrait of the causes and consequences of food insecurity among adults age 50-59 in comparison to those in their 40s and those 60 and older. We emphasize the 50-59 age cohort in part because they do not have access to an age-specific safety net like older Americans (or some younger ones), take-up rates in food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) are low, and the scaring effects of job loss can be more severe. We complement our age-specific analyses by examining the full samples of adults age 40 and older, those adults age 50 and older, and the subsamples with family incomes below 200% and below 300% of the poverty line.


Senior hunger in the United States: Differences across states and rural and urban areas

Many pressing questions remain regarding the extent, causes, and consequences of senior hunger in America.  Is the threat of senior hunger common across all states in the nation?  Are there differences in hunger risk across urban and rural areas?  In this follow-up study to our 2008 report entitled The Causes, Consequences, and Future of Senior Hunger in America we document the geographic distribution of senior hunger across states and metropolitan location. With the addition of several more years of data, we also provide an update to our original report on the extent and distribution of senior hunger across the nation. 


The causes, consequences, and future of senior hunger in America

Hunger is a serious threat facing millions of seniors in the United States. Despite this important public health threat, we know very little about the face of hunger among seniors, the causes of senior hunger, its consequences for the well-being of seniors, or what will happen in the next twenty years with respect to hunger among senior Americans. Although federally-funded programs including the Elderly Nutrition Program (ENP) and the Food Stamp Program are designed to address food security and nutritional needs among senior Americans, studies demonstrate high levels of need still exist among seniors. Thus, it is important to expand our understanding of hunger among seniors in order to help develop strategies to reduce it.