FRIDAY, May 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- One in 12 older Americans doesn't get enough to eat because they have difficulty affording food, according to a new study.
"In 2011, 8.35 percent of Americans over age 60 faced the threat of hunger -- that translates to 4.8 million people," study author Craig Gundersen, a professor in the department of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, said in a university news release.
A lack of sufficient food -- referred to as food insecurity -- means that older people take in fewer calories, vitamins and other nutrients, putting them at increased risk for health problems.
"Seniors who are food insecure reported higher incidence of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attack, gum disease and a host of other health problems than adults their age who are food secure," Gundersen said. "In addition, food insecure seniors have worse general health outcomes, more daily activity limitations and are more likely to suffer from depression."
Gundersen and his colleagues analyzed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and wrote their report for Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.
"Food insecurity rates among seniors were almost three times as high if grandchildren were present in the home in comparison to homes without grandchildren present," Gundersen said.
"And those seniors with grandchildren in the house had lower nutrient intakes than those without grandchildren," he added. "We think this may be because adults in households with grandchildren are forgoing healthy diets in order to make sure their grandchildren have enough to eat."
Officials need to take action to increase older adults' participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), which has been shown to reduce food insecurity, Gundersen said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about seniors and nutrition.
SOURCE: University of Illinois, news release, April 23, 2014