Three-quarters of people over the age of 50 in the United States say the higher cost of groceries has affected them somewhat or a lot, and nearly a third say they are eating less healthily due to increased food costs, according to new survey results.
But the survey notes that food cost inflation has impacted more on certain groups of older adults — particularly individuals who rate their physical or mental health as fair or poor, and those who live in low-income families or who have fewer years of formal education.
The new findings come from a national survey conducted in late July by the University of Michigan National Survey on Healthy Aging, based at the UM Institute for Health Care Policy and Innovation.
“For the most vulnerable seniors, the massive increase we’ve seen in food costs can make the situation worse,” said Priti Malaney, MD, director of the survey and physician at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan Academic Medical Center. “As the White House holds its conference on hunger, nutrition and health this week, these new findings point to the need to better support the nutritional needs of adults over 50.”
Michigan Medicine and AARP support the National Survey on Healthy Aging.
Increased food cost and food insecurity
More than a third of 50- to 80-year-olds say the high cost of groceries has affected them the most, with 41% of people in their 50s and early 60s saying this compared to 30% of those 65-80.
Overall, the percentages saying this were higher among those who rated their physical health as fair or poor (46%), those who rated their mental health as fair or poor (58%), and those with household incomes below 30,000 dollars (56%) and those with a high school education or less (48%).
The inflation pinch has a direct impact on the foods that older adults buy. More than a third (36%) of those aged 50-64 said their diet was less healthy due to higher costs, compared to 24% of those aged 65-80.
Across all survey residents, the percentages who say they eat less healthily because of the cost were higher among those who rated their mental health as fair or poor (54%), those with household income below $30,000 (48%), and those who rated their mental health as fair or poor (54%), and those who rated their mental health as fair or poor (54%). their mental health as fair or poor. Physical health is fair or poor (46%), and those with a secondary education or less (40%).
Respondents also answered questions asking them to reconsider the past 12 months, and to determine whether two statements were often true, sometimes true or never true about their home. In all, 4% of seniors said it was often true that they worried they would run out of food before they had the money to buy more, and 15% said this was sometimes true. Meanwhile, less than 4% said this had actually happened to them a lot, and another 12% said it had happened occasionally in the past 12 months.
These experiences of food insecurity were more common among those in fair or poor physical or mental health, and those with incomes less than $30,000. Those who lived alone were more likely to say they ran out of food before they had the money to get more.
Those who had experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months were three times more likely to say they now eat less healthy diets due to higher food costs, compared to those who were not food insecure (66% vs 22%).
USDA data shows that grocery costs rose 13% from July 2021 to July 2022, and expects a continued increase of another 10% in 2023.
The AARP Policy Institute recently published a report showing that in 2018, the majority of adults over 50 whose income qualifies for federal food assistance were not registered with SNAP. The AARP Foundation provides assistance in understanding and applying to the benefits of SNAP.
Eating habits and body weight
About a third (32%) of adults aged 50 to 64 said they eat a balanced diet, compared to 44% of those aged 65 to 80. Balanced of those with formal education completed with a high school diploma or less (48% vs. 28%). The percentage who described their diet as balanced was even lower among older adults who said their physical or mental health was fair or poor, at 23% and 16%, respectively.
The survey also asked adults about fruit and vegetable intake. In all, 38% agreed with the statement that they do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, but the percentage that says this is much higher among those with fair or poor physical health (51%), or fair or poor mental health (56%).
People who reported not eating enough fruits and vegetables were more likely to report that their diet became less healthy due to higher costs, compared to those who felt they ate enough fruits and vegetables (40% vs. 26%).
On another question about eating habits, 29% of older adults said they eat a lot of sweets – but larger percentages saying the same were seen among those with a high school education or less (34%) or incomes of less than $30,000 (34%) ), those who describe their physical health as fair or bad (39%) and those who describe their mental health as fair or bad (49%).
Similarly, 19% of the total survey sample agreed that they were not getting enough vitamins and minerals. The proportion was higher among those with incomes less than $30,000 (25%) and those who say they are in fair or poor physical health (30%) or mental health (33%).
When asked about their weight, 39% of the entire sample said they were slightly overweight, 29% said they were overweight, 25% said they were nearly the right weight, and 7% said they were underweight. The percentages saying they were overweight were higher among those who reported fair or poor physical health (47%), fair or poor mental health (37%) or income less than $30,000 (37%). The percentage of people who said they were underweight was higher among those with incomes under $30,000, at 13%.
This is the second time that the National Survey on Healthy Aging has asked about food concerns among older adults. In December 2019, 14% of people aged 50-80 who responded to the survey said their household had experienced food insecurity in the past year, and 42% of those respondents indicated that they or those living with them had reduced quality or The amount of food they buy due to limited resources. The survey also noted older adults’ experiences of cooking at home and eating out.
The survey report is based on the results of a nationally representative survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for IHPI, conducted online and by phone in July 2022 among 2,163 adults ages 50 to 80. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect the US population.
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