Two new reports on hunger among older Americans show Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of food insecurity for those who are in their 50s, and it’s also a major issue for Kentuckians over 60. In the Green River region alone, more than 300 elders are on a waiting list for a daily hot meal.
The first-time report by Feeding America, Hunger Among Adults Age 50 to 59 in 2017, shows for that age group Kentucky has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation at 19 percent, compared to the national rate of 11 percent.
In the complementary report, The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2017, which focuses on those who are 60 and over, the Bluegrass State has a food insecurity rate of about eight percent, slightly above the national average.
But Jennifer Williams, associate director for aging and social services at the Green River Area Agency on Aging and Independent Living, points out that these percentages include several hundred homebound grandparents, parents and neighbors waiting for a hot meal.
“Our waiting list as of January was around 344 people waiting for meals. We’re hovering right around that 340 mark," said Williams. "But we know that number’s just going to continue to grow because our Baby Boomers are aging into those older years and it’s not going to let up, I don’t think.”
Williams said the agency does its best to connect older residents who don't have enough food, not enough nutritous food, or are unable to prepare meals with available food assistance.
“We have a ‘Feed Seniors Now’ program where we collect food donations and take it to their homes, once a year, but that again is just a once a year fix," said Williams. "We do refer people to food banks in the area, but some people are left wanting and it is heartbreaking.”
Williams says the home delivered meals program serves clients from age 60 to a few in their late 90s to 100 years old.
The Green River agency, headquartered in Owensboro, currently provides about 1,000 hot meals a day to senior centers and homebound residents in Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster counties.
Alleviating the statewide issue of hunger, including food insecurity among older Kentuckians, is the ongoing goal of Feeding Kentucky, which is made up of seven food banks that serve food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in all of the state's 120 counties.
“Too many older adults and senior citizens in Kentucky are struggling to put food on table after decades of hard work,” said Feeding Kentucky Executive Director Tamara Sandberg. “They are faced with agonizing choices such as paying for food or paying for medicine. We must do more to ensure that the golden years are truly golden for every Kentuckian.”
Co-author of the Feeding America reports James Ziliak, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, said the new study of those in their 50s shows that it's important to alleviate the issue of food insecurity as early as possible to help prevent multiple health issues in later years.
"The high rate of food insecurity among 50-59 year olds in Kentucky is very concerning, both on its own, and because of research showing that food insecurity is associated with many negative health outcomes,” said Ziliak. “Onset of poor health at this age portends greater challenges for aging in place as these older adults approach retirement."
The Feeding America studies found that nationwide 5.5 million seniors face hunger.