Lewis Diuguid

Lewis Diuguid: Food insecurity creating greater health problems for Americans age 50 and older

Food insecurity is a growing problems for Americans over age 40, a study reports.
Food insecurity is a growing problems for Americans over age 40, a study reports. Special to The Star

The Great Recession stomped a lot of people over age 50 with layoffs, housing foreclosures and stripped retirement savings. If that’s not enough a lingering effect of the downturn is that 4.5 million of these mostly baby boom age Americans remain food insecure.

That count is from the February-March issue of AARP Magazine. The article is headlined, “There’s more to hunger than going hungry.”

“Every day, many older Americans sacrifice a meal to keep the lights on, pay the rent or feed their family,” the article says. Such food insecurity for people age 50 to 59 — who are too young to qualify for Social Security or pensions — increases their risk of developing chronic health problems. The report says, “food insecurity tends to be more of a problem among the ‘youngest old’ and declines fairly regularly as age increases.” Thank you Social Security!

Because of food insecurity, 19 percent of people age 50 to 59 have diabetes, 28 percent suffer depression and 95 percent have some limits on their daily activities. About 95 percent suffer a reduced muscle mass, poor vision and lower bone density.

AARP notes that baby boomers, Americans born from 1946 to 1964, spend twice as much on health care as younger adults. But food insecurity costs U.S. adults an estimated $130.5 billion. “This cost is due to the increased risk of poor health and disproportionately high prevalence of chronic disease associated with food insecurity, including mental illness, nutrient deficiencies, hospitalizations and premature birth,” the Food Insecurity Among Older Adults report said.

Food insecurity among older Americans “is a critical social issue that requires immediate attention from policy- and other decision-makers,” the report notes.

Good luck with that. The growing wealth disparity in the United States is ejecting more Americans from the middle class. There also appears to be no political will either in statehouses or in Congress to do anything about the problem.

The report makes a big distinction between “hunger” and “food insecurity.” It is not about being politically correct. It’s just a more accurate way to describe what’s happening to people.

“Hunger is a physiological state,” the report says. “Hunger describes the physical pain and discomfort an individual experiences. Food insecurity is a social, cultural or economic state and as such, is simpler to conceptualize and measure.

“To say that people are ‘hungry’ is perhaps to imply a much greater degree of need, or a much more serious condition, than saying they have problems with access to food. ‘Hunger in America’ became a much politicized topic, especially during the Reagan years, and stimulated a lot of fairly useless controversy over whether adults were ‘really hungry’ or not.

‘“Food insecurity’ has been an easier concept for policymakers to swallow — ‘hunger’ stuck in the craw. Food insecurity entails a much wider and often more systemic problem than ‘hunger’ describes. Unlike hunger, it is not a temporary state or sensation.”

The report notes that 17.3 percent of over-40 households are food insecure. “These numbers seem inordinately high, especially compared to some of the other advanced English-speaking democracies (specifically the United Kingdom and Australia) where, using identical measures, the overall rate of food insecurity is in the vicinity of 8 or 9 percent,” the report said.

Among groups in the United States, whites have the lowest rate of food insecurity (15 percent) followed by Hispanics (30.4 percent) and African Americans (32.4 percent). Regionally, the rate is highest in the South.

States with food insecurity rates above 20 percent include: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, South Carolina and Texas. Fourteen states have food insecurity rates less than 15 percent are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, Virginia,Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Women have slightly more food insecurity (18.6 percent) than men (15.7 percent).

Metropolitan areas with food insecurity rates greater than 20 percent include Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Nashville, Tenn.; Rochester, N.Y.; Sacramento, Calif.; and St. Louis.

Regardless of where people live, the rate is too high, and action is needed especially for Americans over age 40.