The number of older adults is projected to increase over the next decade and continue to rise in the following decade. In 2040 there will be 79.7 million older adults, more than twice as many as in 2000.  Additionally, the senior population is becoming increasingly diverse.  Between 2012 and 2030, the white population of 65 and plus is projected to increase by 54% compared with 125% of older minorities. [i]  

These changing demographics will have profound impacts on the demand for social services, especially the need for adequate and culturally appropriate nutrition services.  Seniors may have unique nutritional needs and challenges that separate them from the rest of the population and must be considered.

Emergency Food Assistance [ii]

  • Nearly 3 million elderly persons are served by Feeding America each year.  18.6 percent of client households have at least one member who is age 65 or over, and 52 percent of these households are food insecure - an estimated 1.2 million households.
  • Among all clients served by Feeding America, 8 percent were seniors age 65 or over, while 14.2 percent of adult clients interviewed at emergency feeding programs were age 65 or older.
  • Among all client households with at least one senior, 10.5 percent use senior brown bag programs, 16.5 percent attend senior nutrition sites (such as senior centers that serve lunch) and 6.6 percent receive home-delivered meals or meals-on-wheels.
  • 30 percent of client households with seniors indicated that they have had to choose between food and medical care and 35 percent had to choose between food and paying for heat/utilities.

Food Insecurity

  • In 2012, 2.8 million (8.8%) households with seniors experienced food insecurity. 1.1 million (9.1%) households composed of seniors living alone experience food insecurity. [iii]
  • In 2011, 4.8 million Americans over the age of 60 were food insecure. This constitutes 8.4% of all seniors. [iv]
  • The number of food insecure seniors is projected to increase by 50% when the youngest of the Baby Boom Generation reaches age 60 in 2025. [v]
  • Seniors are more likely to be food insecure if they : [vi]
    • Live in a southern state
    • Are younger
    • Live with a grandchild
    • Are African American
    • Are Hispanic

For seniors, protecting oneself from food insecurity and hunger is more difficult than for the general population.  For example, a study that focused on the experience of food insecurity among the elderly population found that food insecure seniors sometimes had enough money to purchase food but did not have the resources to access or prepare food due to lack of transportation, functional limitations, or health problems. [vii]


  • In 2012, 9.1 percent of seniors (3.9 million older adults age 65 and older) lived below the poverty line. [viii]
  • In 2011, under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, seniors make up 12.6% of people in poverty as compared with 7.8% under the official measure. [ix]
  • In 2011, under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, medical out of pocket expenses (MOOP) increase the poverty rate among seniors (8.0% excluding MOOP, 12.6% including). [x]

Federal Nutrition Assistance

  • Elderly households are much less likely to receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) than non-elderly households, even when expected benefits are roughly the same. [xi]
  • Seniors require greater consideration towards their health and medical needs that can become compromised when there is not enough food to eat.  A study which examined the health and nutritional status of seniors found that food insecure seniors had significantly lower intakes of vital nutrients in their diets when compared to their food secure counterparts.  In addition, food insecure seniors were 2.33 times more likely to report fair/poor health status and had higher nutritional risk. [xii]

[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging.  (2012). A profile of Older Americans: 2012.

[ii] Cohen, R., J. Mabli,, F. Potter & Z. Zhao. (2010). Hunger in America 2010.  Mathematica Policy Research, Feeding America. 

[iii] Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., & Singh, A. (2013). Household Food Security in the United States in 2012, Table 2. USDA ERS.

[iv] Ziliak, J.P. & Gundersen, C. (2013.) Spotlight on Food Insecurity among Senior Americans: 2011. National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH).

[v] Ziliak, J. & Gunderson, C. (2009, September). Senior Hunger in the United States: Differences across states and rural and urban areas.  University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research Special Reports. Retrieved October 7, 2010.[v]

[vi] United States Department of Agriculture/Office of Analysis, Nutrition, and Evaluation.  Elderly Participation and the Minimum Benefit.  November 2002.

[vii] Wolfe WS, Frongillo EA, Valois P. (2003).  Understanding the experience of food insecurity by elders suggests ways to improve its measurement.  J. Nutr. 133:2762-2769, 2003.

[viii] DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, B.D. Proctor, J. Smith.  U.S. Census Bureau.  Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States:  2012.  September 2013.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ziliak, J. & Gunderson, C. (2009, September). Senior Hunger in the United States: Differences across states and rural and urban areas.  University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research Special Reports. Retrieved October 7, 2010.

[xii] Lee JS, Frongillo, Jr. EA. (2001).  Nutritional and health consequences are associated with food insecurity among U.S. elderly persons.  J. Nutr. 131: 1503-1509, 2001