Senior Hunger Threat Remains Higher than Pre-Recession Levels

Food insecurity on the rise among seniors.
Food insecurity is on the rise among seniors.

The number of senior citizens considered food insecure increased by 49 percent between 2007 and 2012 according to a study from The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH).  Using the Three Core Food Security Module to measure risk, study authors Dr. James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Craig G. Gundersen of the University of Illinois found that over 9 million American senior citizens were food insecure, and threat of hunger rates for all senior groups (ages 60 to 69, 70 to 79, and 80+) were higher in 2012 than 2007, even though the recession had ended. The majority of seniors facing threat of hunger due to food insecurity were white with incomes above the poverty line, but both African American and Hispanic seniors were at a higher risk of hunger than whites. Over one-third (35%) had at least one grandchild living with them.

The State of Senior Hunger in America 2012: An Annual Report also ranks states by senior hunger threat, with Arkansas (25.44), Louisiana (23.56), and Mississippi (22.67) having the highest rates in the nation. In 2012, Pennsylvania had a rate of 12.93, down approximately 15 percent from 2011. The NFESH has numerous reports on the threat and consequences of senior hunger at their website.

Food insecurity among seniors may be related to income, neighborhood safety and walkability, and individual physical and mental health, but regardless of the reasons why, the consequences are poor health and a deficit of needed nutrients.  As the Baby Boomers age, it’s likely that we will hear more about senior hunger as a top public health issue.



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)

Despite their Numbers, Little Research on Abuse of Older Adults

The National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) recently tweeted a picture to remind that reconnecting with family during Thanksgiving weekend is not just a sentimental tradition, but a responsibility we have to our older relatives.  Although senior citizens make up a growing segment of society (the U.S. Census Bureau projects that about 20 percent of residents of the United States will be 65 years and older in 2030) there is not a body of research or a high-profile public service campaign focused on elder abuse and neglect.

Despite involving a highly vulnerable population, the issue of elder abuse hardly makes for gripping headlines, nor is it the subject of tear-jerking television commercials imploring people to not turn away from the difficult images of neglected senior citizens.  According to the report, Understanding Elder Abuse: New directions for developing theories of elder abuse occurring in domestic settings by Shelly L. Jackson and Thomas L. Hafemeister, the issue lacks the research funding and the backing of high profile organizations required to launch it to the forefront of public consciousness. Even the very definition of the word “elderly” is a source of debate as baby boomers don’t want to be reminded that they are getting older.

Without a powerful advocacy group or much data to plan and support a call to action, it is difficult to communicate the urgency of the problem to people bombarded near-daily with causes and foundations looking for more than just a sad story (this issue is not limited to interpersonal violence, there is a high-stakes battle for funding dollars among diseases).  Also, as Jackson and Hafemeister discuss, there is not a widely accepted theory that explains the incidence of elder abuse and neglect.  Several interpersonal explanations or socio-cultural approaches can be used to examine the issue,  but there is not one prominent school of thought  that illuminates what limited data are collected on the issue. Another factor that complicates presentation of the issue, is that  there are several kinds of abuse and neglect and not all are violent (fraud, theft, self-neglect) or always intentional (neglect, isolation).  The authors also point out that the victim of abuse and the relationship between abusing/neglectful caregiver and victim  are not closely examined (not to in anyway blame a victim, but relationship dynamics – and the majority of elder caregivers are family members – are fraught with various factors one theory may not  adequately capture).

Perhaps the reality of a projected 88.5 million adults over age 65 living in America in 2050 has prompted the need to explore the issue, as research collaborations have been formed through the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) to provide insight into this complex issue, identify evidence-based practices and guide policy formation.  To learn more about protecting the elderly at home or in care facilities, resources for caregivers, and the signs of abuse or neglect visit the FAQ page at NECA or the NAPSA  website.



Report Citations:

Vincent, Grayson K. and Victoria A. Velkoff, 2010, THE NEXT FOUR DECADES, The Older Population in the United States: 2010 to 2050, Current Population Reports, P25-1138, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.

Jackson, Shelly L. and  Thomas L. Hafemeister, 2013, Understanding Elder Abuse: New directions for developing theories of elder abuse occurring in domestic settings,  National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC.

The Plotting of Happiness

An international study out of Australia found that happiness peaks (on average) during a person’s 60’s, then begins to decline, before dropping off considerably.  Earlier this year, Dr Tony Beatton of Queensland University of Technology and Professor Paul Frijters of The University of Queensland reported findings from their analysis of data from approximately 60,000 people from Australia, Britain and Germany. Highlights include:

  • Persons entering middle/retirement age (55 to 75 years) reported the highest levels of happiness
  • The data from Germany showed a decrease in happiness  as persons entered adulthood, then a peak at age 65 – a pattern different from the other data
  • Happiness dropped significantly after age 75 across cases

This research adds to the discussion of the ‘U bend of happiness” (see a great write-up on it in The Economist), the concept that happiness ultimately culminates in late middle age; but Beatton and Frijters also address the drop in happiness after age 75, suggesting that it  is related to the onset or worsening of health problems. This aligns with prior research on the relationship between the presentation of depression symptoms and medical issues/illnesses among the elderly population.  




Study Citation: Frijters, Paul & Beatton, Tony, 2012. “The mystery of the U-shaped relationship between happiness and age,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 525-542

Community Assessment Identifies Priority Issues in the Laurel Highlands

Last month the United Way of the Laurel Highlands announced the results of their 2011 Community Needs Assessment Survey, an endeavor used to inform their own strategic planning process. It is also a helpful resource for nonprofits, foundations and businesses operating in or around Cambria and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania.

The report identified the following priory issue areas for the region:

  • Helping Children Succeed, including use of alcohol and drugs, parenting issues, family and domestic violence and  school readiness.
  • Supporting Vulnerable and Aging Populations, including affordable medical care, mental illness and emotional issues, gaps in family support systems and social support systems, and affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Strengthening and Supporting Families,  including affordable medical care and insurance, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
  • Promoting Self Sufficiency, including unemployment and under-employment, job training, drug and alcohol use, criminal histories, credit histories and personal savings.
  • Promoting Health and Wellness, including  obesity, unhealthy lifestyles and affordable medical care and health insurance and drug and alcohol abuse.

The report contains demographic, education, economic and health profiles on Cambria and Somerset counties as well as a discussion of methods to best support and empower individuals and communities in the Laurel Highlands.  It is available for download on the United Way of the Laurel Highlands website.