Over one third of seniors must make regular, difficult, decisions between food, shelter and warmth. The health impact is huge, over half of all diseases impacting seniors are directly connected to insufficient nutrition intake. Combining the physiological predisposition of older adults to under nutrition and a lack of funding for senior food programs, many of the nations elderly are suffering immensely.
In the past few years, the number of seniors without access to sufficient food in the US has been increasing greatly. In 2007 there were 6 million older adults defined as food insecure, however, by 2011 this figure had jumped to 8.8 million. Although this increase is in part due to a larger senior population in 2011 versus 2007, this is not the whole story. While the elderly population increased by 9% (according to the US Census Bureau) during this four-year period, the threat of hunger among seniors went up by 46.7%.
The data for Nevada specifically is worse. Between 2001 and 2007, around 4.36% of seniors were food insecure but by 2011 this had jumped to 18.8%. The latter figures meant in that year, the State of Nevada had the fourth highest level of food insecurity in the United States. Based on the most recent reports, there has been some improvement. The state has dropped to 9th place in hunger rankings and now 17.12% of seniors are living without access to sufficient food. However, these improvements are minimal, a decrease of just 8.9%, compared with the jump of 331% between 2007 and 2011.
There is clearly a moral obligation to support food pantry and delivery programs but there is also financial support for doing so. In 2006, the Meals on Wheels association undertook a project to try and estimate the health care losses caused by poor nutrition. They created a program where Medicare Advantage patients were offered ten delivered meals for free, immediately following their discharge from hospital. Those who chose to receive these meals were, on average, sicker than those who did not and yet they still experienced health care savings of $1,061 in the first month and a further $316 in the third month (data for month two was not collected).
Focus needs to be placed on these delivery programs in particular, as many low-income seniors lack access to transportation to reach meal sites. For example, a study conducted by Transportation for America (2011) predicts that 52% of the Las Vegas population aged 65 to 79 will have poor transit access in 2015 and this problem is far worse in rural regions. Even those in urban areas with public transport options may be physically unable to travel or feel unsafe doing so and therefore end up equally isolated.
All of the data relating to senior hunger percentages and rankings can be found here: http://www.nfesh.org/research
Nevada's plans for action: http://www.diversifynevada.com/uploads/studies/StrategicPlanFoodSecurityinNV_020713.pdf