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Estimated percentage of Vermont residents age 60+ who face the threat of hunger


Story Behind the Curve

This report demonstrates that the threat of hunger among seniors in America is a continued challenge facing the nation. Despite the end of the Great Recession in 2009, almost 1 in 6 seniors faced the threat of hunger in 2015, and the number of seniors facing the threat is 113% higher in 2015 compared to 2001. Given the compelling evidence in Ziliak and Gundersen (2017) that food insecurity is associated with a host of poor nutrition and health outcomes among seniors, this report implies that these high rates of food insecurity among seniors will likely lead to additional public health challenges for our country. This suggests that a key potential avenue to stem the growth of health care expenditures on older Americans is to ameliorate the problem of food insecurity.

  • Food insecure seniors have lower nutrient intakes.

  • Food insecure seniors have worse health outcomes.

  • The effect of food insecurity holds even for a lower-income sample.

What Works
Notes on Methodology

We document the state of hunger among senior Americans ages 60 and older using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS). In December of each year, households respond to a series of 18 questions (10 questions if there are no children present) that make up the Core Food Security Module (CFSM) in the CPS. (See the Appendix for more details on the CPS and CFSM.) Each question is designed to capture some aspect of food insecurity and, for some questions, the frequency with which it manifests itself. Respondents are asked questions about their food security status in the last 30 days as well as over the past 12 months. We focus on the questions referring to the past year.

Consistent with the nomenclature and categorizations in our past reports (Ziliak and Gundersen 2014, 2013, 2012, 2009; Ziliak et al., 2008), we consider three characterizations of food insecurity: the threat of hunger, when a person is defined as marginally food insecure due to having answered affirmatively to one or more questions on the CFSM; the risk of hunger, when a person is food insecure (three or more affirmative responses to questions on the CFSM); and facing hunger, when a person is very low food secure (8 or more affirmative responses to questions in households with children; 6 or more affirmative responses in households without children). The threat of hunger is the broadest category of food insecurity since it encompasses those responding to at least one question on the CFSM. The next broadest category is the risk of hunger since this group encompasses those who are either low food secure or very low food secure. The most narrow, and in turn, most severe, category in our taxonomy is facing hunger. For the purpose of this report we focus on the threat of hunger, but a supplement to the report provides a parallel analysis for seniors at risk of hunger and those facing hunger.

The CPS is a nationally representative survey conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, providing employment, income and poverty statistics. Households are selected to be representative of civilian households at the state and national levels, using suitably appropriate sampling weights. The CPS does not include information on individuals living in group quarters including nursing homes or assisted living facilities. For this report and previous reports, we use data from the December Supplement which contains the Food Security Supplement (FSS). The questions from the FSS are found in Appendix Table 1. Because our focus is on hunger among seniors, our CPS sample is of persons age 60 and older. In 2015 this results in 22,626 sample observations. Appendix Table 2 presents selected summary statistics for the CPS sample.

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