Conceptualizing Food Insecurity Among Older Adults: Development of a Summary Indicator in the National Health and Aging Trends Study

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Nov 15;76(10):2063-2072. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbaa147.


Objectives: Measurement of food insecurity in older adults is focused on financial barriers to food access. Given that older adults are particularly susceptible to additional access-related barriers including functional limitations and lack of social support, the objective of this study was to construct a summary indicator of food insecurity incorporating these domains.

Methods: We used nationally representative survey data from Round 5 of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS; n = 7,070). We constructed a summary indicator of food insecurity using factors within the following three domains: functional, social support, and financial limitations. First, we identified the prevalence of food insecurity among the sample as defined by the new summary indicator. Then, we estimated unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression models to assess the association between the expanded measure of food insecurity and biopsychosocial factors.

Results: In 2015, 4.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] 3.75-4.94) of community-dwelling older adults, approximately 1,673,775 million people, were characterized as having food insecurity. Multivariable-adjusted regression models identified that being homebound (odds ratio [OR] 3.49, 95% CI 2.03, 6.00), frail (OR 9.50, 95% CI 4.92-18.37), and experiencing community disability (OR 5.19, 95% CI 3.90-6.90) was associated with food insecurity.

Discussion: Food insecurity among older adults is broader than lacking adequate financial resources to obtain food; it is also associated with social and functional limitations. A more comprehensive conceptualization will aid future study on the impact of food insecurity on health status, utilization, and outcomes to inform senior nutrition program targeting and services.

Keywords: Functional health status; Measurement; Nutrition; Social support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Financial Stress / epidemiology*
  • Food Insecurity / economics*
  • Frail Elderly / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Homebound Persons* / psychology
  • Homebound Persons* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Independent Living / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritional Status
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Social Support*
  • United States / epidemiology