Approximately 4,627 Phillips County seniors are among the more than 160,000 Arkansas seniors that don't have enough to eat or at risk of going hungry, reports a study released by the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult services.
The figures rank Arkansas among the worst states in the country and Phillips County among the worst in the state for seniors living with food insecurity.
ADH defines food insecurity as “not having nutritionally adequate food in sufficient quantities.” According to an ADH press release, food insecurity is associated with several negative health effects, including malnutrition, cardiovascular disease and lengthy stays in the hospital.
“At first glance, these numbers were discouraging,” commented Krista Hughes, DAAS director. “No one should be hungry, especially our seniors. But now that we know which counties have the most need, we can work aggressively to connect seniors there with help.”
According to figures provided by the study, 21 percent of Phillips County's population is age 60 and older. Seventeen percent of those age 65 and older live below the poverty level and 27 percent (or 5,930 people) of the population – all ages – are considered as being food insecure.
The report also reveals that 14 percent of those considered food insecure are not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), previously known as food stamps.
The report notes, “No reliable data exists for food insecurity rates among seniors below the state level. However, senior poverty and overall food insecurity provide proxy measures to examine the relative burden across the state.”
The report establishes some explanations why so many seniors are going without enough proper nutritious food. Lack of transportation, inability to pay rising food costs and living in rural areas with few or no food stores accessible were among the reasons cited.
African Americans, Hispanics, divorced, separated or widowed seniors and those with disabilities are more likely to face food insecurity than others.
DAAS works with several Arkansas agencies to help battle the senior hunger problem. For example, the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, USDA-funded program that the Area Agency on Aging and DAAS administers, makes available $50 coupons to low-income seniors to buy locally grown produce at farmers' markets. Meanwhile, DHS, working with senior centers across Arkansas, are encouraging more eligible seniors to apply for SNAP benefits.
Under the Older American Act, DAAS contracts with Arkansas providers to serve meals to those 60 and older. During the past five years, these programs have served 19 million meals to Arkansas seniors.
To view the full report “Senior Hunger in Arkansas 2013: Impact, Extend and Trends” please go to http://www.daas.ar.gov/pdf/senior%20Hungerin%20Arkansas%202013.pdf