Nearly 10 million seniors are “food insecure,” a term used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to describe the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
According to the National Council on Aging, senior food insecurity has doubled since 2001 with predictions that it will only increase as baby boomers grow older.
There are a number of reasons older adults may find themselves in need of food support. Whether due to illness or lack of transportation, disability or low income, seniors are going without the nutrition they need to stay healthy and live active lives.
“There is a strong connection between food insecurity and health impacts, regardless of age,” says Jillian Warriner, Sharp HealthCare community benefits and health improvement program manager. “Access to healthy food was identified as a top social determinant of health in San Diego's most recent hospital community health needs assessment.”
According to Barber, who represents Sharp as a member of the San Diego Food System Alliance’s Healthy Food Access Committee and the San Diego Hunger Coalition’s Hunger Advocacy Network, the lack of access to healthy food is a strong predictor of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and even mental health concerns. Treating these chronic conditions can affect the household’s finances, further increasing food insecurity.
Seniors often use coping strategies to offset their lack of food. These include:
- Eating low-cost, filling foods
- Limiting the variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables
- Eating smaller portions or skipping meals
- Visiting food pantries and soup kitchens
- Participating in state-run nutrition programs, such as CalFresh and WIC
- Decreasing or foregoing prescribed medications
- Cutting utilities, housing or transportation costs
In San Diego County, there are several resources for seniors facing food insecurity. Twenty percent of clients served by San Diego Food Bank are over age 65. Serving Seniors delivers nearly 240,000 meals per year to homebound seniors and provides breakfast and lunch seven days per week. Feeding America San Diego and Meals on Wheels San Diego County also offer food programs for seniors.
However, not all seniors in need know about these programs or have a way to access them. Some shy away from asking for help because of pride. Maria Baron, a clinical case manager with Sharp’s Senior Health Center, says that we can all help make a difference in improving seniors’ ability to access affordable or free nutritious food.
“As a community, we can be mindful of drop-off centers for food collections,” says Baron. “As individuals, we can be aware that, due to the chronic illnesses that seniors often have, it is exhausting for many to stand in lines and carry home food provided by distribution sites. Donate your time and consider assisting in delivering food to seniors’ homes.”
For more information on how you can support our senior population suffering from food insecurity, visit the San Diego Hunger Coalition website. If you or a loved one would like more information about local senior food programs, visit the San Diego Food Bank Senior Food Program Page.