How Rising Food Prices Affect Seniors

Rising food prices can have a profound effect on seniors. For some, the higher cost of food will limit their ability to access healthy, nutritious food, representing not only a financial dilemma but a potential health crisis as well.

Many older adults live on fixed incomes and rely heavily on retirement savings, pensions, or social security benefits. These individuals are especially vulnerable to food insecurity.

In fact, in 2020, 11% of adults ages 60 and older living in the United States had faced the threat of hunger in the previous 12 months. States with the highest rates of food insecurity reached an astounding 16-21%. (Source: United Health Foundation)

According to the AARP, nearly 11.8 million Americans ages 50 and older faced food insecurity and the threat of hunger in 2022, up 25% from 2021. (Source: AARP)

And unfortunately, food prices have only continued to rise. Between 2019 to 2023 food prices in the United States rose by 25 percent. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

How Rising Food Prices Affect Seniors - Consumer Price Change Index 20190 - 2023

Seniors Are Often Forced to Choose Between Food and Medication

Due to the unprecedented escalation in food prices, many seniors now face the unimaginable task of choosing between eating a healthy meal or filling necessary prescriptions.

Unfortunately, both cost-saving measures can lead to further health complications and increase the cost of care.

Special Diets and Poor-Quality Food Do Not Mix

Many seniors are on specialized diets because of heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic conditions, which often require highly nutritious foods.

Cheaper options, such as boxed foods, are usually filled with sodium, sugar, and other additives that aren't good for anyone, let alone those with specific dietary needs.

The Emotional Toll of Food Insecurity on Seniors

While out-of-control food prices carry a monetary burden, the emotional toll can be significant as well.

For many elderly individuals, the inability to afford enough food or the right kind of food can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

It can also erode their sense of independence and dignity, which is a crucial component of mental and emotional health.

Resources That Can Help Seniors Manage Rising Food Prices

Thankfully, there are resources available to help fill the gap so that you or your loved one can afford food in addition to other necessities such as medication and personal care products.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income individuals and families to supplement their grocery budgets so they can afford healthy, nutritious food.

If eligible, you will receive SNAP benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card.

Use the SNAP Retailer Locator to find SNAP-authorized retailers near you by entering an address or zip code.

Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP): This program provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs to purchase locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey.

Because state participation in SFMNP is not mandatory, check the USDA's Food and Nutrition Services Map to see if there is a program available where you live.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): Also known as the 'Senior Food Box' program, the CSFP program strives to improve the health of low-income seniors (age 60+) by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA foods.

While CSFP boxes do not provide a complete diet, they can be an excellent way for seniors to supplement the food available to them via SNAP and other food assistance programs and help them consume a more well-balanced diet.

To check for CSFP programs in your area, search the USDA Food and Nutrition Service database.

Meals on Wheels: This service delivers meals to individuals at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. It's a vital resource for homebound seniors, providing not only nutrition but also a human connection.

Local Food Banks and Pantries: Many communities have local food banks or pantries that directly serve those in need, including special programs targeted at the elderly population.

Community and Senior Centers: These centers often offer free or low-cost meals to seniors along with other social and recreational activities that can improve their overall well-being.

Community Garden Projects: Many community gardens nationwide have reserved free garden plots with elevated beds for disabled and elderly patrons. If your loved one is able to plant and water a garden, this is a great way to foster independence, be a part of a community through gardening, and grow nutritious, nutrient-dense foods to help fill the gap.

The rising cost of food will force us all to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions.

It's time we pull together to face this challenge by working cooperatively at the local level to help those in need!

Brooke worked as a home health and hospice nurse for many years. During her time working with patients and families, she saw the pressures and strain of what caregivers went through while caring for loved ones. Lack of resources to help caregivers prompted her to start a support group for caregivers in her area. Since then Brooke has turned to writing courses for nurses and content writing. In her spare time, she enjoys time with family, her dog and travel.