New Report Finds Food Inflation Is Affecting Older Adults' Health

Food insecurity is a topic tossed around more frequently since the COVID pandemic pervaded society on multiple levels. While 2020 dished out pandemic-related shutdowns, supply disruptions, and lack of access to healthy foods for some populations, the ongoing effects have hit older adults harder than you may realize. With the zingers of increasing food inflation and higher costs for housing, fuel, and most everything else in 2022, statistics for food insecurity and health-related issues amongst seniors were bound to rise — but did they? That's exactly what the National Poll on Healthy Aging explored, and the resulting 2022 report may surprise you. 

The poll, which had sponsorship from Michigan Medicine and AARP, focused on the rising costs of buying groceries as of July 2022, specifically for older adults ages 50 to 80, and was conducted at the University of Chicago for IHPI with 2,163 adults in the stated age range.

How food inflation is impacting health

Food inflation, defined simply as an increase in the price of food, is forecast to continue rising in 2022, per U.S. News. Skyrocketing costs impact "food insecurity," explained by the USDA as reductions in food intake and disruptions in normal eating patterns due to a lack of money and resources. According to the 2022 National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHR), older adults take a harder hit than other populations, affecting physical and mental health in significant ways.

An overwhelming three-quarters of survey respondents in the overall 50 to 80 age range reported impacts of higher grocery prices, ranging from low to high in severity. Even more notable is the one-third of people acknowledging a decrease in the consumption of healthy foods, including 40% who tie the lack fruits and vegetables to rising food costs. Based on self-reporting of physical and mental health issues, as well as lower income and education levels, the impact increases. Soaring food costs for these vulnerable adults potentially makes precarious situations worse, according to NPHR poll director Dr. Preeti Malani.

Other studies corroborate the link between food costs and health in older Americans, including a JAMA Network Open finding that food insecurity likely leads to chronic stress, wear and tear on the body, and increased risks for morbidity. 

With the USDA predicting continued food prices of another 10% in 2023, the impact to older populations remains an area of concern.