Right now, millions of older Americans are struggling to make ends meet. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we turn our attention to seniors who in addition to the burden of rising healthcare expenditures and daily living costs also face the risk of going hungry. While hunger is often pegged as an urban issue, food insecurity is a nationwide problem that affects seniors in the country’s cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

According to Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, 1 in 6 people face hunger in today’s society. In 2011, over 8% of households with seniors (2.5 million) were food insecure. The AARP Foundation’s 2011 Hunger Report found that 3.5 million adults age 50 or older faced hunger, while 24.4% were at risk of food insecurity.

Older adults who are food insecure experience poor health outcomes, including increased functional limitation and mental health issues

Millions of aging Americans who live on fixed incomes must chose each day between eating or paying for other basic essentials. For the 8.7 percent of seniors (3.6 million older adults age 65 and older) who live below the poverty line, food insecurity is two to three times more likely than in the general population. Seniors who live in the South, live in multigenerational households, and those who are African-American or Hispanic are also more likely to be food insecure.

Protecting seniors from hunger can present unique challenges that can comprise seniors’ physical and mental wellbeing. Studies show that food insecure elderly persons present with nutrient deficiencies. Older adults with functional limitations or whom a lack access to transportation may have trouble procuring food items and preparing nutritious dishes.  Food insecurity undoubtedly affects clinical health outcomes: Food insecure seniors are twice as likely to be diabetic (19% vs 2%), are far less likely to be in excellent or very good health (17% vs 44%), and are over five times more likely to suffer from depression (16% vs 3%).

What can be done about food insecurity in the aging population?

There are a number of ways in which people can help out hungry seniors during the Thanksgiving holiday.