URBANA, Ill. — Good news on the hunger front: After a sustained period of years with steady increases, the rate of seniors who were food-insecure dropped slightly for the first time in a decade.
The bad news is that the authors of a recent study that tracked hunger for seniors and officials with groups fighting hunger in the United States say far too many older folks struggle with regular meals, noting that some 5.4 million people older than 60 were technically food insecure in 2015.
“There has been some progress in recent years, and that is a good sign, but there’s still so much more to do,” said Emily Weikert Bryant, the director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, Inc.
Bryant’s group overees her state’s 11 Feeding America-affiliated food banks, and she notes – as does a recent study by University of Illinois researchers – that improvement in the national economy is one reason for the slight drop in senior hunger.
Improvements with local and state programs, particularly in dealing with larger food manufacturers to move products in ways that get to seniors quicker and in larger volumes, also are reasons for the rate decrease, Bryant said.
The study, titled The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2015, was produced by Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger. It was written by the University of Illinois’ Craig Gundersen and James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Poverty Research.
“After six consecutive years of increased hunger in seniors since the Great Recession began, the slight drop in 2014 is good news, but not good enough,” Gundersen said. “And it’s important to remember that the decrease is in hunger on the national scale. Some individual states saw an increase.”
The report, which can be accessed at www.nfresh.org, identifies the top 10 states in terms of senior food insecurity rates, along with listing rates for all 50 states.
“Seven of those (top) 10 states are in the South, plus New Mexico, New York, and Indiana,” Gundersen said, adding that rates varied from 6.1 percent in North Dakota on the low end to 24.3 percent in Mississippi at the top.
The Feeding America-sponsored report tracks with recent USDA data regarding hunger. For 2016, the USDA said food insecurity in the United States affected 41.2 million Americans of any age, a drop of about 2.4 percent from 2015.
“Food insecurity increased substantially with the recession (starting in 2007),” said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, who wrote the most recent USDA report. Along with falling unemployment, lower levels of food inflation also have eased hunger rates in the U.S. “We’re continuing the downward trend,” Coleman-Jensen added.
Both Gundersen and Bryant said discussions in Washington, D.C. regarding the next farm bill include talk of making significant cuts to the nation’s food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), would be a dire mistake.
“Of all the programs that exist to help reduce food insecurity, it (SNAP) is the bedrock for hunger relief, and it would be a shame to see the program cut back,” Bryant said.