The Aging of Orange County

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Food Security & Hunger

Buy Food or Fill an Essential Prescription?

The Great Recession brought many changes to Orange County. Although economists point to growing recovery, a heartbreakingly large number of aging adults in Orange County will tell you a different story.

“Many seniors are being forced to make the decision between buying food, paying rent, filling their prescriptions or paying for transportation,” SeniorServ’s Holly Hagler said. “Very often, seniors are under economic stress, and they are making decisions about which basics to cut.”

Buy Food or Fill an Essential Prescription?Like a roll of the die, they are forced to choose whether to buy food or pick up medication prescribed to combat the leading causes of death in Orange County among those older than 65, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The Orange County Office on Aging, citing a UCLA Health Policy study, reports that a staggering number of seniors age 65+ are economically insecure, with nearly half of those living alone and more than 20 percent of couples facing poverty. And the result? Many go hungry or do what they thought they’d never have to do after a lifetime of work: turn to nonprofits for assistance with an empty stomach and a demoralized spirit.

To understand the enormity of this problem, consider that SeniorServ provides nutrition and supportive services to more than 15,000 older adults in Orange County every year. Ninety percent of these clients have incomes that fall below the senior poverty line. This plays out every day in Orange County, one of the top 100 wealthiest counties in the United States. And the number of impoverished seniors will only increase as our population continues to age.

For those without access to transportation or unable to leave their residences, the issues of food security and hunger are even more dire. Elderly nutrition programs delivered nearly 1 million meals to our community’s homebound seniors in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Food insecurity and hunger among aging adults has health consequences too. The American Society for Nutritional Science found that food-insecure seniors were at significantly greater risk for nutritional deficiency than their food-secure peers.