This blog is our second installment of a three-part series FRAC is releasing in recognition of Older Americans Month.

Imagine having to choose between food, medicine, and other basic necessities. This is a reality for millions of Americans age 50 and older who struggle to afford the food they need to support their health and well-being.

Because of limited financial resources, food-insecure adults — especially older adults — often need to resort to coping strategies to stretch constrained budgets. These strategies can be harmful to health, such as forgoing medical care; purchasing low-cost, nutrient-poor foods; and making trade-offs between food and other basic necessities, such as medication.

Older adults experiencing food insecurity have lower overall dietary quality than their food-secure counterparts, as measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index. They consume fewer calories, less protein, and fewer essential vitamins and minerals when compared to their food-secure peers.

Research shows that older adults who are food insecure are more likely to experience diabetes, congestive heart failure, hypertension, gum disease, and limitations on activities of daily living, among other negative health outcomes. Additionally, compared to their food-secure counterparts, older adults struggling against food insecurity are at higher risk of depression.

Impact of Food Insecurity on Health Care Use and Costs

It should not be surprising that household food insecurity is a strong predictor of increased health care needs and costs. Food insecurity and its associated coping strategies can compromise health and exacerbate existing conditions. Often, food-insecure older adults have more doctor’s office visits and emergency room visits, and more frequent hospitalizations.

In 2014 alone, direct and indirect health-related costs of hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. for children and adults were estimated to be a staggering $160 billion.

Food insecurity affects millions of older Americans every day. Check back later this month to learn more about the solutions that exist to end it. In the meantime, share this blog on social media using the hashtag #AgeOutLoud.

Coming soon: FRAC and the AARP Foundation will release an online course, “Screen & Intervene: Addressing Food Insecurity Among Older Adults.” The course will provide health care providers and other community-based practitioners with information on how to screen patients 50 and older for food insecurity, and then how to connect patients who screen positive for food insecurity to food and nutrition resources.