UPDATE: Food insecurity worse in surprising age group: Local experts

UPDATE POSTED 5:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 8, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Food insecurity is an issue across America, but a newly-released study says the problem may be worse in Kentucky than in many other areas.

According to a study by Feeding America, which included work by University of Kentucky professors, food insecurity and hunger are problems, but the age group that is hardest hit may be a surprise.

“This year’s research shows that Kentucky is worst in the nation for food insecurity, for populations ages fifty to fifty-nine at almost 17%. That’s about eighty percent higher than the national average,” said God’s Food Bank CEO Michael Halligan.

The study puts the national percentage for food insecurity in that age range at 9.5 percent. According to Lexington Rescue Mission Executive Director Laura Carr, Kentucky’s numbers being higher isn’t a surprise.

“There’s a number of food deserts, places where there’s not access to fresh vegetables, fresh produce. And just groceries in general,” said Carr.

Halligan says the food bank believes about forty thousand people, or twelve percent, of Lexington’s overall population experiences food insecurity. He says it’s even higher in Eastern Kentucky.

“Across central and Eastern Kentucky, it’s 16.5, which is 1 and 5, and over a quarter of a million people experiencing hunger,” said Halligan.

The study is based on 2019 numbers. The COVID-19 pandemic likely has made the problem even worse. Carr says she’s seen an uptick in Fayette County even in the past month. She says it’s possibly due to the eviction moratorium, which ended August 26 with the Supreme Court blocking its extension, and the ending of several coronavirus aid programs. She says it’s still too early to know for sure.

Carr believes food insecurity in these older age groups is due to the extra financial burdens many take on.

“This age group in particular, you know, these are folks that are oftentimes juggling responsibilities not just for their own family, but for their parents. And so they’re managing a couple of households and trying to help family out. People who are trying to keep themselves and their family above water…having the extra burden of caring for aging parents and caring for their own family really hits that age group particularly hard,” said Carr.

The study says food insecurity rates in all age groups were higher among racial and ethnic minorities, those with lower income, and those who rented property.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 10 A.M. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 8, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – Two recent studies about food insecurity among older adults have shown that Kentucky has the highest rate in the nation.

Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2019 and The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2019 both examined the extent to which food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritious food, affects seniors in the United States, offering deeper insights into the experience of food insecurity among the aging population.

Also released were two reports on Health Consequences of Senior Hunger and Health Consequences of Hunger Among Older Adults.

The Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2019 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 9.5 percent, while in Kentucky the rate was 16.9 percent. The data is from 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2019 report shows that Kentucky’s 10.4 percent food insecurity rate for seniors age 60 or older was also higher than the national average of 7.4 percent in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

“These studies are a reinforcement that the work we do makes a difference but there is much more work to be done to feed our older adult and senior population,” said God’s Pantry Food Bank CEO Michael Halligan. “We are grateful for the resources entrusted to the Food Bank that allow us to support more than 450 food pantry and meal programs across Central and Eastern Kentucky leading to reduced hunger in every community.”

Key findings include:

  • Between 2018 and 2019, the number of food insecure older adults in the U.S. declined from 4.5 million in 2018 to 4.0 million in 2019 – a statistically significant change. In Kentucky, the number of food insecure older adults declined from 17.3 percent in 2018 to 16.9 percent in 2019. Despite this recent improvement, older adults were still facing higher levels of food insecurity than before the Great Recession that started in December 2007.
  • Continuing with historic trends documented in prior reports, we find that food insecurity was greatest among racial or ethnic minorities, those with lower incomes, and those who were renters. In the senior population it is higher within those who are younger, the 60-69 age range.
  • Food insecure older adults had significantly lower nutrient intakes in comparison to food secure older adults. For example, food insecure older adults had intake levels of vitamin A (14.9%), vitamin C (12.9%) and iron (7.1%) that were lower than food secure older adults. ​
  • Food insecure seniors were 262% more likely (nearly 3 times more likely) to have depression.

For the fifth 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 third year Feeding America has produced the Hunger Among Older Adults report.

The studies were conducted by researchers Dr. James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Dr. Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois. The full reports can be found here.

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