Food Insecurity for American Seniors: Bad, and Getting Worse 

man with his head on his hands; food insecurity in seniors

Nearly 10 percent of American seniors struggle with being able to afford enough food, also known as food insecurity. A new report from The State of Senior Hunger in America expects the problem to get worse as the senior population continues to grow. 

The State of Senior Hunger in America report

The 2019 report, which uses data from 2017, reported that 5.5 million seniors went without enough food that year. The current number of food-insecure seniors is double what it was in 2001. 

The report found that seniors are more likely to experience food insecurity if they are of a racial or ethnic minority, disabled, unemployed, or women. Additionally, seniors living in multi-generational households are twice as likely to experience food insecurity. 

Seniors living with food insecurity also face more health problems. 


With 10,000 people aging into Medicare every day, the problem is only expected to get worse. The report reads: “In 2017, there were 70.5 million seniors living in the United States. By 2025, it’s estimated the senior population will grow to 104 million. If the current rate of senior food insecurity does not change, more than 8 million seniors will be food insecure.”

How bad is it for Medicare beneficiaries?

A team of researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard Medical School performed a separate study in 2016 to explore the problem of food insecurity in 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries. 

The study concluded that 9.1 percent of American seniors don’t have enough food to eat, while the same is true for 38.3 percent of younger people with Medicare coverage for long-term disabilities. According to the study, the most at-risk Medicare beneficiaries receive $15,000 or less in annual income, and often have multiple chronic illnesses, depression, or anxiety. 

While the study did not conclude with a causation between food shortage and poor health, it did find a strong correlation between the two. 

Why are American seniors food insecure?

One potential reason for food insecurity in American seniors is lack of financial support from Social Security. Last month, the Social Security Administration announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2020 will be 1.6 percent, about half of what it was last year. 

To make matters worse, there have been several attempts to cut Social Security and Medicare funding under the Trump administration. 

Nutritional resources

Some health clinics screen patients for basic needs like food and housing, and may refer them to social services such as Meals on Wheels or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A smaller number of these clinics also function as community centers with staff members who can help Medicare recipients navigate these programs. 

Another resource to address the basic and social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries is the Accountable Health Communities Model. According to Madden, this model shows an attempt of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to take more interest in indirect factors that can affect a person’s health. 

The Accountable Health Communities Model was born out of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, which penalizes hospitals for high readmission rates. With this provision, hospitals have an incentive to make sure patients are set up for healthy living when they are discharged. 

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