More than 10 million older adults in the U.S. face the threat of hunger every day.
If you’re surprised by that statistic, you’re not alone. Even though senior hunger exists in every community across the country, it’s one of America’s best-kept secrets.
That’s why AARP Foundation has designated April as Senior Hunger Awareness Month: to call attention to the fact that too many vulnerable older adults don’t know where their next meal is coming from, never mind whether the food is nutritious. People like Judith Bell, who often has to choose between buying groceries and using that money for other essentials.
In describing her quandary, she said, “Do I buy my medicines, or do I buy the food? If I don’t buy my medicines, I’m going to get sick and I’m not going to be able to eat the food. So I guess I’d better buy the medicines and let the food go.”
Certainly, there are important programs and services, some of them led by AARP Foundation, that provide meals to people who are hungry. In addition, we need to understand that solving hunger will require more than addressing an immediate need. First, we must recognize it as a long-term threat to public health.
Make no mistake about it: Hunger is a health issue. Seniors who are food insecure are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure or a heart attack, and three times more likely to suffer from depression. Beyond the individual toll, there’s also a societal one, as hunger costs the U.S. healthcare system $130.5 billion annually.
Second, we must recognize the connection that exists between hunger and poverty. Poverty is the ultimate social determinant of health, and a pervasive concern that continues to affect millions of people around the country. Yet senior poverty also goes unnoticed, despite the fact that nearly 20 million older adults are at risk of not having enough income to meet their basic needs.
Imagine if we, as a nation, refused to accept the fact that more and more older people are falling into poverty. Imagine if we declared this reality unacceptable.
And then imagine if we went further — if we thought like Nelson Mandela, who once said, “Like slavery, like apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
It’s a bold vision. But boldness is what’s required. Reams of research and data show that the old solutions clearly aren’t working.
Like hunger, senior poverty is a health issue — not only for those who live it but for our society as a whole. It is a problem affecting all of us … and so the solution needs to come from all of us.
We may disagree about the best way to address the problem, but we can at least agree on this: In the world’s wealthiest nation, no senior should go hungry.
Find out more about AARP Foundation’s work to end senior hunger at http://endseniorhunger.aarp.org/.