Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Food Assistance Needs of Low-Income Elderly: A Qualitative Investigation

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Food Assistance Needs of Low-Income Elderly: A Qualitative Investigation

Article excerpt


Qualitative interviews were conducted to assess the degree of hunger and food insecurity as well as the nutritional practices among low-income elderly in Mississippi. Participation in and reliance on the Food Stamp Program was documented and characteristics of high-risk elderly populations were explored. The majority of these elderly do not admit experiencing hunger or food insecurity; however, the amount of food assistance received by this audience is perceived to be insufficient (usually $10 per month). Poor nutritional practices with this audience seem to be related to lack of sufficient money, limited access to transportation, poor overall health, and lack of nutrition education.


Food Stamp Reform

House Bill 3734 (1996) proposes to cut food stamp benefits for households that include elderly members by $2 billion over six years. On average, the 1.75 million households with elderly members will lose $167 per year in food stamp benefits in 1998 and $243 per year in 2002. In dollar terms, the average food stamp cut for elderly households is lower than for other families because elderly households typically include fewer people and, therefore, receive smaller average benefits (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1996).

Little attention has been paid to the effects of these cutbacks. Furthermore, "relatively few studies have focused exclusively on evaluating the impacts of the Food Stamp Program on the nutritional status of elderly recipients" (Oliveira, 1998). Studying the impact of food stamp reforms on the elderly is particularly pertinent in Mississippi. According to U.S. Census data (MDHS DAAS, 1996), the states with the highest poverty rates for Americans over age 65 are in the Southern U.S. The elderly in Mississippi have the highest poverty rate in the nation at 29 (MDHS DAAS, 1996). The state of Mississippi has the highest number of households suffering from food insecurity in the U.S. (17.2%) and 12.1 % of households outside of metropolitan areas suffer from food insecurity (USDA, 1997).

According to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Economic Assistance, 14.4% of all food stamp recipients in Mississippi are 55 years of age or older. This percentage is high when compared to the national average for elderly participants at 7% (USDA, 1998).

Hunger and Food Insecurity

Food insecurity has been defined as "the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so" (Wolfe et al., 1996) . Food insecurity exists "whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain" (Anderson, 1990). The levels of food insecurity defined by one study (Wolfe et al., 1996) include: (a) compromised diet quality, (b) food anxiety, (c) socially unacceptable meals, (d) use of emergency strategies, and (e) actual hunger.

Persistently poor rural America low-income households, including those receiving food stamps, are at an increased risk of food insecurity (Morris, Neuhauser, and Campbell,1992) . Further, food insecurity contributes to malnutrition in the elderly, which consequently exacerbates disease and decreases resistance to infection (Wolfe et al., 1996) . Federal programs to combat food insecurity reach only one-third of needy elders (Wellman et al., 1997).

According to a 1993 national representative survey of the Urban Institute by Burt (as cited in Wellman et al.,1997) between 8 and 16% (2.5 to 4.9 million) of the elderly population have experienced food insecurity within a six-month period. Elders at 150% and more of the poverty level experienced some forms of food insecurity, yet were not poor enough to qualify for food stamps or other support programs. Duff states (as cited in Wellman et al. …

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