Food insecurity among elderly people – an overlooked issue that demands urgent attention. 

Cressida Pidgeon is Research and Projects Officer at Bremner & Co.

She regularly dives deep into the data on child food security and nutrition issues. Here she highlights the issue of food insecurity among the elderly in the UK, one that is not addressed as frequently or urgently in today’s conversations around access to food.

In my role at Bremner & Co, I’ve worked on a range of projects across the life course of a child, looking at how policy can address children and young people’s experiences of food insecurity. I often find the topics I’m working on are reflected in the media, where I see public discourse and policy attention around UK food insecurity rightfully calling out child food insecurity issues.

Recently, however, I was saddened to read that 1 in 10 elderly people face significant challenges accessing nutritious meals. Learning about the ‘hidden two million pensioners’ who live below the poverty line has made me reflect on the overlooked nature (and neglect) of persisting food insecurity among our elderly.

Food insecurity among elderly people is linked to multiple challenges that many of us are likely to encounter as we grow old. Fixed incomes, limited mobility, health issues and social isolation are just a few factors that limit elderly peoples’ access to a nutritious diet. Food insecurity among this demographic is a pressing issue that demands attention and action.

One of the main reasons elderly people face food insecurity is because they are financially constrained by fixed incomes. Pensions may not be enough to cover rising living costs, forcing many to make the daily choice between eating and heating. Furthermore, 17% of people above 55 don’t have a private pension and debt in retirement is increasing. Meanwhile, cuts to welfare support have reduced elderly peoples’ access to key services, like home-delivered meals. Affordability of food is a significant challenge for elderly people with low incomes, causing changes in food purchases, greater reliance on food banks or the skipping of meals altogether.

38% of 70+ year olds have physical mobility issues with 6% of elderly people leaving the house once or less in a week, posing significant barriers to accessing food for many elderly people. In rural areas or neighbourhoods with limited access to public transportation, this issue can be particularly acute, leaving elderly people without reliable means of obtaining fresh, nutritious food. Health issues can complicate matters further for elderly individuals experiencing food insecurity. Elderly people can experience reduced appetite and sense of smell/taste, lead to ‘anorexia of ageing’. Chronic conditions or disabilities may impact their ability to shop for groceries, prepare meals or even chew and digest certain foods. As a result of these issues, many may rely on convenience foods that are often high in salt, sugar, and fat, further exacerbating existing health problems.

Social isolation is another critical factor contributing to food security among the elderly. In 2021, there were 3.3 million individuals aged 65 years and older living alone in England and Wales. Many older people lack the social networks that can provide support during times of need. Without family members, friends or neighbours to assist with food shopping or meal preparation, they may struggle to maintain a healthy diet. Moreover, the emotional toll of loneliness can further diminish their appetite and motivation to cook for themselves.

Addressing the food insecurity among elderly people needs a multifaceted approach. First off, we need policies that guarantee elderly people have enough money to get by comfortably and afford the basics – this includes affordable housing. Second, we need to make food affordable and accessible, especially for people who have limited mobility. This could involve initiatives such as mobile food pantries, home-delivered meal programs or subsidies for transportation services. And, finally, we must create opportunities for reducing social isolation. It’s about more than just food; it’s about making sure our elderly people feel cared for and connected.

Food poverty among elderly people is a complex and often overlooked issue that demands urgent attention. By addressing the financial, health and social barriers that prevent elderly people from accessing adequate food, we can ensure that every individual, regardless of age, can access a nutritious diet and live a healthy and dignified life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top