We aren’t getting any younger. Between 2012 and 2050, like many industrialized countries, the U.S. will experience considerable growth in its older population. By 2050, the population aged 65 and older is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). This dramatic increase is due largely in part to the “baby boomer” generation, as they began turning 65 in 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014).
Age is the main risk factor for the prevalent diseases of developed countries, including cancer and cardiovascular disease (WHO, 2015). Although aging is inevitable, the risks of developing these common health conditions and the severity of certain illnesses can be mitigated with better nutrition. Unfortunately, a growing number of older Americans are food insecure. Food insecurity is defined as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” (USDA, 2017). Research collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that between 2001 and 2011, the number of food insecure senior citizens more than doubled.
In 2011, 4.8 million seniors, or 8.4 percent of the senior population faced food insecurity (NFESH, 2013). These food insecure seniors consumed fewer calories and lower quantities of all 10 key nutrients than their food secure seniors. Consequently, food insecure seniors are 53 percent more likely to report a heart attack, 52 percent more likely to develop asthma, and 40 percent more likely to report an experience of congestive heart failure (NFESH, 2013). In addition to these physical health issues, mental health is also jeopardized, putting food insecure seniors at a 60 percent greater risk of experiencing depression than their food secure counterparts (NFESH, 2013). This increase in senior food insecurity is obviously becoming a major public health issue, and continues to grow as our nation continues to age.
Fortunately, the same study concluded that food assistance networks can play a major role in combating this issue. For instance, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, PA, plays a vital role in addressing food insecurity. One program that the GPCFB participates in is the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which offers nutrition assistance to low-income seniors. Each month, volunteers pack CSFP “Senior Boxes”, with healthy non-perishable foods, that are sent out to qualifying seniors sites. The food bank currently serve 6,402 seniors at more than 200 sites throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania (GPCFB, 2017). The boxes also contain healthy recipe ideas that utilize ingredients from the boxes, as well as fresh produce made accessible to most seniors through the GPCFB’s free Produce to People program and the inexpensive Green Grocer program. All recipes developed and published at the GPCFB, adhere to nutrition guidelines limiting the amount of salt, fat, cholesterol, and added sugars used. Diets low in these categories can decrease the risk of chronic disease ( DHHS, 2016).
Increasing nutrition education and outreach efforts to the vulnerable senior population that the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank serves is one step toward combating this serious public health issue. Helping these seniors get access to nutritionally adequate food, through the myriad of food bank programs, and educating them about the best and easiest ways to prepare these foods is key.
-U.S. Census Bureau. (2014). “An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States”. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf
-World Health Organization. (2015). “World Report on Ageing and Health”. Retrieved from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/186463/1/9789240694811_eng.pdf
-United States Department of Agriculture. (2017). “Food Security in the U.S.”. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/measurement.aspx
-Life Sciences Research Office, S.A. Andersen, ed., “Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations,” The Journal of Nutrition 120:1557S-1600S, 1990.)
-National Foundation to End Senior Health and Feeding America. (2013). “Spotlight on Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americas”. Retrieved from:https://www.hungernwnc.org/about-hunger/Spotlight%20on%20Senior%20Health.pdf
-Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. (2017). Senior Boxes (CSFP). Retrieved from: https://www.pittsburghfoodbank.org/csfp/
-U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2015). “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/