Frequent Questions

What is Hunger?

Hunger is more than just a growling sensation in the stomach; it’s an emotional and physical stress that, when prolonged, may cause serious health problems and a substantial loss in the quality of life. Congregate and home-delivered meal programs are geared toward ensuring the nutritional well being of the nation’s elderly, helping millions of seniors stay happy, healthy, and independent, longer.

What factors contribute to hunger among the elderly?

Poor Health:

With age comes an increased chance of becoming dependent on others for help in performing the activities of daily living. Chronic illnesses or conditions—such as arthritis, osteoporosis, senile dementia, hypertension, heart disease, breathing problems, a nd diabetes—substantially limit mobility, making it difficult and often impossible for many seniors to buy, cook, and prepare nutritious meals. In fact, 41% of congregate and 59% of home-delivered meal participants reported having three or more diagnosed, chronic illnesses or conditions.

Low Income:

When low income is compounded with poor health, even more seniors have difficulty obtaining an adequate amount of food. 12.9%, or 4.9 million seniors, have incomes below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty threshold; another 14% are considered poor, and are by all practical means financially disadvantaged. Although means tests are prohibited, it is estimated that one-third of congregate participants and nearly one-half of home delivered participants have family incomes below 100% of the poverty threshold.

What’s being done about hunger among the elderly?

For over thirty years, the Older Americans Act (OAA) (Title III-C) has provided funding for elderly meal services. In fiscal year 1998 the OAA's Elderly Nutrition Project (ENP) spent over $486 million feeding approximately 2.8 million seniors at congregate dining sites or through home-delivered meals through Meals On Wheels. Nutrition programs, however, must also rely on state and local funds as well as private/public partnerships to meet the burgeoning demand for their services. Every $1 of federal money spent at congregate sites leveraged $1.70 in other funds; every $1 spent on home-delivered meals garnered $3.35 in additional funding.

In FY 2001, Title III funding will be just over $530 million and more than 3 million seniors will receive services.

How does elderly population growth attribute to hunger among the elderly?

Over the last several decades, a substantial growth in the elderly population has increased the demand for meal services—a trend that will continue on into the twenty-first century. During the twentieth century, the number of people over 65 has increased by a factor of eleven, compared to a factor of three for the rest of the population. And according to a Census Bureau projection, the elderly population in the United States will more than double between now and the year 2050, to 80 million people.

The oldest old, those age 85 and older, are the most rapidly growing age group. Between 1960 and 1994 their numbers rose 274% compared to a 100% rise in the remaining elderly population, and a 45% rise in the entire U.S. population. Numbering 3 million in 1994, the oldest old are expected to reach 19 million people by 2050. Fourteen percent of congregate participants and 26% of home-delivered participants are 85 years and older, and as their numbers increase, so will the strain on the already scarce resources of nutrition programs for the elderly.

What is the importance of nutrition programs for the elderly?

While the main goal of nutrition programs is to feed seniors in need, the programs provide elderly Americans with much more than just meals. Congregate meal sites give participating seniors the opportunity to socialize with members of the surrounding community, while Meals On Wheels programs, armed with an array of cheerful and caring volunteers, deliver meals to frail, sick, home-bound seniors—only 46% of whom reported getting out of their homes at least once per week. And for the 57% of congregate and 60% of Meals On Wheels recipients who live alone, nutrition programs not only provide them with nutritious meals but also friends.