Never Too Late March/April 2024

Healthy Minds for Life A Message from Lee Ryan, Professor and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona

Food Insecurity: The Hidden Health Issue for Older Americans

medications, medical services, or even paying the rent. Others have chronic physical and health conditions that make cooking and grocery shopping difficult. Many older adults don’t have access to transportation, making it more difficult to get to grocery stores or food pantries, or they live in rural communities without easy access to quality food sources. Others live alone and don’t have family or caregivers who can help them with grocery shopping and cooking. Poor health is not only a reason for food insecurity among older adults, it also contributes to poor health. The constant worry and uncertainly associated with food insecurity can take a toll on a person’s psychological well-being. Older adults who are food insecure are more likely to experience mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and chronic stress. Older adults with food insecurity consume lower levels of key nutrients such as protein, vitamins A and C, magnesium, calcium, and iron that can lead to malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and chronic diseases. Poor nutrition exacerbates health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, gum disease, and osteoporosis. According to the National Council on Aging, seniors who are food insecure are 65% more likely to be diabetic. Several studies have also shown that food insecurity significantly increases the risk for falls, which are the leading cause of injury and disability among older adults. Poor diet is also associated with lower cognitive functions like learning and memory, attention, and concentration, and higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. What can we do to ensure that older adults in our community get the food they need to live a healthy, active life? If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity, here are several wonderful local organizations who can help.

In the last issue of Never Too Late , I talked about the importance of eating a healthy, nutritious diet packed with fresh unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A nutritious diet helps maintain our cardiovascular health and also our brain health, leading to better memory, attention, and other cognitive skills as we age. But did you know that millions of older adults in this country don’t have access to sufficient food, or high quality food, to meet their basic nutritional needs? This is often referred to as “food insecurity”, which doesn’t necessarily mean going hungry. For example, an older adult with low food security might depend on low- quality, highly processed inexpensive foods rather than nutrient-dense foods that cost more, such as fruits and vegetables. Many other seniors, however, may eat less food than they actually need. They might regularly skip meals or eat very small portions to stretch their budget further. The scale of this problem is staggering. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society (Leung & Wolfson, 2021) documented that food insecurity increased among older adults across a ten-year period, from 5.5% to 12.4%. Translated, this means that more than five million older adults in the United States currently experience food insecurity on a regular basis. The study also reported that these individuals have diets that are lower in high quality nutritious food. Let’s be clear – food insecurity happens to people of every age. But older adults often face unique challenges that make getting the food they need even harder. For some individuals, limited income makes it difficult to afford the high cost of healthy quality foods. People may find themselves making difficult choices between buying groceries or paying for

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona has multiple sites in Tucson and surrounding communities where they provide healthy, nutrient-dense groceries, as well as prepared meals, in order to make nutritious food accessible to everyone. You can find information about their services at Their website also has links to other important programs for seniors including the Arizona Commodity Senior Food Program (CSFP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is a need- based, government anti-hunger program that helps older adults buy the food they need to stay nourished, healthy, and active. Pima Council on Aging has an extensive Resource Directory available through their website that lists services ranging from home delivery meals to grocery shopping services. Some services charge a fee, but others are non-profit organizations who can help home-bound adults get the nutritious food they need. Go to http:// or call their Helpline (520) 790- 7262. If you are lucky enough to be food secure , please consider making a donation, or donating your time to support these very important organizations. No one in our community should go hungry. You can find more information about the Precision Aging Network at our website: To hear about ways that you can participate in our research studies, email us at Lee Ryan is a Professor and Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Arizona. She is a researcher studying aging and Alzheimer’s disease, and is a member of the Precision Aging Network.

Page 10 | March/April 2024, Never Too Late

Pima Council on Aging

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