Inflation in America: Older adults fear going hungry over rising food costs

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Inflation has been making things extremely difficult for all Americans trying to make ends meet, but a new study finds the rising cost of goods is particularly impacting older adults. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that rising food costs are forcing many seniors into a difficult choice — eat unhealthily or go hungry.

In a survey from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, three in four Americans between 50 and 80 say the rising cost of groceries is affecting them in some way. One in three say inflation is causing them to eat a less nutritious diet to save money.

The effects of the global economic crisis are having a particularly negative impact on older adults who are in poor shape, have fair to poor mental health, and those in lower-income households.

“For our most vulnerable older adults, the huge increase we’ve seen in food costs could make a bad situation worse,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a physician at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, in a university release. “As the White House convenes its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health this week, these new findings suggest a need for better support of the food needs of adults over 50.”

Food Inflation

Will inflation cause some to delay retiring?

The poll found that rising prices are actually hurting older adults who may still be in the workforce more than their elderly peers. More than two in five (41%) Americans in their 50s and early 60s say rising grocery costs impact them “a lot,” compared to 30 percent of those between 65 and 80.

Older adults who rate their physical health as fair or poor (46%), those with fair or poor mental health (58%), those making less than $30,000 (56%), and those without a college education (48%) were the most likely to feel the impact of inflation on their food bills.

With inflation cutting into their paychecks every month, many respondents say they’re actively changing what they buy at the grocery store — and that’s not a good thing. Thirty-six percent of adults 50 to 64 admit they’re buying less nutritious food because it’s cheaper. One in four seniors between 65 and 80 said the same.

Food insecurity on the rise in 2022

Over the past 12 months, many older adults are living in constant fear of running out of food before they can afford to buy more. Four percent say they worry about this often, while 15 percent say they worry about it sometimes.

Another four percent admit this has actually happened to them often over the last year and 12 percent say they’ve run out of food without money to buy more occasionally.

Again, those in worse physical shape, poor mental health, or in lower-income homes were more likely to experience food insecurity this year. Researchers found that those living alone were also more likely to run out of food before their next paycheck.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that grocery costs have skyrocketed by 13 percent since July 2021. They predict that food costs will rise by another 10 percent in 2023.

In 2018, the AARP Policy Institute notes the majority of adults over 50 who qualified for federal food assistance were not enrolled in the SNAP program.

Poll methodology

The new findings are based on a poll by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

The results come from a nationally representative survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for IHPI, and presented to 2,163 adults age 50 to 80 online and over the phone in July 2022. Researchers weighted the results to reflect the U.S. population.

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