By April A. Morris  

MAY 25, 2012 9:27 a.m. Comments (11)

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An estimated 17.1 percent of elderly people in South Carolina faced the threat of hunger in 2010, ranking the state in the top 10 in the nation, according to the latest Senior Hunger in America report commissioned by the Meals on Wheels Foundation.

Mississippi had the highest rate at 21.53 percent and North Dakota had the lowest at 5.52 percent.

“There is no question that we are failing our seniors, some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. The numbers spell out our failure with clarity, and at the same time they call us to action,” said Enid A. Borden, chief executive officer of the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation, in a statement about the study.

Released in May, the Senior Hunger in America 2010 report used data based on 18 questions in the Core Food Security Module (CFSM). The module is used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish the official food insecurity rates of households nationwide. Based on the answers given, researchers determine whether the respondents faced a “threat of hunger,” were “at risk of hunger” or were “facing hunger,” the lowest food security level.

The 18 questions included whether respondents could afford to eat balanced meals, ran out of food before they had money to buy more, or ate less than they thought they should due to limited funds. Most questions focused on the past 12 months.

Food insecurity “is associated with a host of poor health outcomes for seniors such as reduced nutrient intakes and limitations in activities of daily living,” the study said. “This implies that the recent increase in senior hunger will likely lead to additional nutritional and health challenges for our nation.”

The report revealed that 9.48 percent of South Carolina senior citizens were at risk of hunger and 2.21 percent were facing hunger.

Addressing hunger in senior citizens presents unique challenges tied to income, isolation and social attitudes, said Susan Douglas, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit that delivers surplus food to Upstate agencies.

“After single-parent families, our next biggest population served is seniors,” said Douglas. Access is the biggest issue for seniors besides income, she said: If they don’t have transportation, they can’t travel to shop.

Seniors can be difficult to reach regarding food security and assistance, Douglas said. “Seniors don’t talk about it; they’re sometimes embarrassed and they’re independent.”

Even so, “I don’t think seniors are significantly worse off except there are more people entering senior status,” she said – a view shared by Greenville Meals on Wheels Executive Director Liz Seman.

The Greenville Meals on Wheels chapter, which will serve its 10 millionth meal this year, delivers 1,500 meals a day to homebound senior citizens, Seman said. Though GMW has not seen an increase in referrals (which typically run about 100 each month), she said she expects that to change in the near future.

“We are going to see our Baby Boomer volunteers eventually become our clients,” she said.

In Spartanburg, “our outreach staff is finding that more younger seniors, in their 60s, are facing hunger,” said Jayne McQueen, president of Mobile Meal Service of Spartanburg County. “It is definitely a growing trend.”

Older senior citizens often are discovered and helped, she said, but the younger seniors are falling through the cracks. Mobile Meal Service typically serves an average of 1,800 people each day, she said.

Some seniors are left to face hunger because of the mobility of families, McQueen said, a point that Seman also makes. “We have a more mobile society; family is no longer nearby to help,” McQueen said. “We find that some people also may be nearby, but don’t choose to take care of their senior relatives.”

Studies like the 2010 Senior Hunger in America report allow local programs to correlate the information to their own regions, Seman said. “The whole hunger picture in Greenville is a total cradle-to-grave scenario,” she says, and meal-delivery organizations serve just a portion of the residents facing hunger in the Upstate.


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