Millions of American seniors, about 5.5 million in 2017, are food-insecure, and disproportionately rural. But little research has been done to understand how lower-income rural seniors get their food, and what factors make it harder. A new Indiana University study aims to address that. Read more here.
The study was conducted by IU's Sustainable Food Systems Science Initiative in partnership with the IU Center for Rural Engagement, and relied on 10 public discussions with rural seniors in Illinois and a survey of 5,000 lower-income households.
Among their findings:
- Seniors said living alone made them less motivated to prepare balanced meals, and reduced the joy they found in eating.
- The pandemic has significantly increased their feelings of loneliness. Before it began, 23 percent said they often or sometimes felt "left out" but 40% reported such feelings in the pandemic.
- Similarly, 7% said they often or sometimes felt "isolated" before the pandemic, but 61% felt so afterward. Before it, 25% said they sometimes or often "lacked companionship", but 42% said so afterward.
- Seniors who live with children or grandchildren said consistent shopping and cooking routines, along with family mealtimes, helped them eat better.
- Seniors also said group mealtimes like those offered at senior centers or churches helped them eat better and feel better. However, such meals have dwindled during the pandemic, and even services like Meals on Wheels have reduced deliveries in some areas.
- Transportation is a major barrier to food access for rural seniors, since many don't drive and public transit is rare or non-existent where they live.
- Many seniors said they found the paperwork to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to be confusing, which often deterred them from participating, especially since the payoff averages only $13-$15 per month.
- Many seniors have specialized dietary needs (low-sodium or low-sugar foods, for example) that are often unavailable to them through food programs.