The Health Consequences Of Senior Hunger

There has been extensive work looking at the causes and consequences of nutrient-related deficiencies and other health outcomes among the elderly. However, much less research has been conducted on the health-related consequences of food insecurity among the elderly. We used data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to examine the health consequences of hunger for Americans over the age of 60.

After controlling for other risk factors for poor health we find that seniors experiencing some form of food insecurity are:

  • Significantly more likely to have lower intakes of energy and major vitamins.
    This holds across all the nutrient intake measures we considered. The effects are very strong. For example, across all the measures, the effect of being marginally food insecure is over twice as large (and generally much larger) than a move in income from one-to-two times the poverty line.
  • Significantly more likely to be in poor or fair health.
    In comparisons of excellent or very good health versus good, fair, or poor health and comparisons of excellent, very good, or good health versus fair or poor health, we find a strong effect of marginal food insecurity. For sake of comparison, being marginally food insecure is similar to not having graduated from high school.
  • More likely to have limitations in activities of daily living (ADL).
    Marginally food insecure are much more likely than fully food secure seniors to have ADL limitations. A senior at risk of hunger has the same chance of an ADL limitation as someone 14 years younger. That is, there is in effect a large disparity between actual chronological and “physical” age, so that a 64 year old senior suffering from hunger is likely to have the ADL limitations of a 78 year old.