The University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research has received a major research grant from the Meals On Wheels Association of America Foundation (MOWAAF) to study the economic and demographic causes, consequences, and future of senior hunger in America.
James Ziliak, Gatton Endowed Chair of Microeconomics and director of the Center for Poverty Research at UK, part of the Gatton College of Business and Economics, will serve as co-principal investigator along with Craig Gundersen of Iowa State University. Meg Haist, a UKCPR post doctorate fellow in public policy, will serve as a senior researcher on the six-month, $200,000 project.
The proportion of elders in the American population will increase at a much faster rate than other age groups over the coming decades. Along with increasing numbers, there will be a sharp increase in the proportion of elders who are over the age of 85. This age group is currently about three million. By 2050, it is estimated that more than 19 million Americans will be in this category.
"The Meals On Wheels Association of America Foundation is particularly interested in this group since the organization's mission is to promote awareness about the existence of hunger among older Americans and to support local senior nutrition programs that provide meals to these older Americans," Ziliak said.
Hunger due to limited economic resources is a serious threat facing hundreds of thousands of seniors in America, according to Ziliak and Gundersen. In 2005, 1.8 percent of persons over the age of 60 suffered from very low food security; among persons with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line the figure is substantially higher â€" 5.9 percent.
According to an Economic Research Service report, six percent of elders in the U.S. in 2005 reported that during the previous year they were uncertain of having, or were unable to acquire, enough food for all their households because they had insufficient money or other resources.
"The impact of hunger may be quite different for seniors as they are more likely to be in poor health than non-seniors. This makes research specific to seniors especially important," Ziliak said.
In national nutrition studies, the elderly have been found to have low intakes of energy, fiber, magnesium, antioxidants, and some other micronutrients. For about 25 percent of elderly persons, these intakes are low enough to lead to an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that nutritional deficiencies can have serious consequences including diminished immune response, longer hospital stays, impairment in physical function, premature institutionalization, reduced activity levels, and higher risks of coronary heart disease.
"Our research will assist MOWAAF in understanding and addressing the problem of senior hunger in America," Ziliak said. "The project will help Meals On Wheels determine who among seniors are most likely to suffer from hunger. A better understanding of senior hunger will help the organization articulate to policymakers as well as the general public why senior hunger in America is a serious problem," he said.