A recently released study prepared for Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger reports that Kentucky ranked sixth highest nationwide for food insecurity among the elderly.
In 2016, nearly 11 percent of Kentucky residents 60 and older risked going hungry, according to “The State of Senior Hunger in America.”
Louisiana ranked No. 1. Alabama, New Mexico, Mississippi and North Carolina rounded out the top five.
The study measured three categories of food insecurity. The most critical was “very low food secure.” That category used to be called “seniors facing hunger.”
In that category, Kentucky also ranked sixth highest at a rate of nearly 5 percent.
By comparison, less than 2 percent of North Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Utah and Hawaii’s elderly residents fit in that category.
“Continuing with historic trends documented in prior reports, we find that food insecurity is greatest among those living in states in the South and Southwest, those who are racial or ethnic minorities, those with lower incomes and those who are younger (ages 60-69),” the report’s executive summary said.
Nationally, hunger rates among divorced or separated seniors was up to three times greater than those who were married.
Elderly residents raising their grandchildren suffered more often with food challenges. And twice the number of black and Hispanic seniors struggled with hunger, as compared to whites.
Food insecurity presents a major health care issue for the U.S., the report said.
Research shows that seniors who face hunger run much higher risks for diabetes, depression, congestive heart failure and asthma. According to the report’s conclusion, one way to slow health care spending on the elderly population is to meet their food needs.
Dianne Morris, director of Working Hands in Owensboro, has managed a food pantry for five years.
Morris has seen an increase in the number of elderly residents seeking assistance.
The cost for medicine, utilities and food climb at a much higher rate than retirement incomes, Morris said.
Also, a growing number of elderly residents raise their grandchildren, an expense they didn’t plan for in retirement.
“We’ve been seeing some with great-grandchildren,” Morris said. “And they are not getting support from their (kids or grandkids).”
She estimates at least 25 percent of her clients are 60 or older.
The Ohio County Food Pantry provides food to about 450 households a month, said Rebecca Baird, the pantry’s secretary/treasurer. That translates to about 1,500 residents.
Baird said up to half of the pantry’s patrons are elderly. “We serve a lot of seniors, and I would say it’s growing.”
Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, said the high rate of hunger among the state’s elderly residents should not be tolerated.
“Together, we must do more to address senior hunger and help ensure that the golden years are truly golden for Kentucky’s seniors,” Sandberg said in a press release.