Anyone familiar with the State of Senior Hunger reports for previous years will notice right away that NFESH/Feeding America’s The State of Senior Hunger in America 2016 is a bit different. In the past, the report has only provided data and analysis on what NFESH and Drs. Ziliak and Gundersen, the researchers, termed “threat of hunger.” A separate Supplement examined the other two categories, namely “risk of hunger” and “facing hunger.” Those food insecurity category titles were designed to represent, in a more descriptive way, the corresponding terms “marginally food insecure,” “food insecure,” and “very low food secure” used by academic researchers and surveyors in conjunction with the Food Security Supplement (FSS) module of the Current Population Survey. The FSS is the recognized data source from which the researchers mined their information.
These annual State of Senior Hunger in America reports have consistently drawn the attention of the public as well as of the media, State Units on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging and anti-hunger groups. Over the years the academic community has also become keenly interested. So in this expanded readers’ environment, the researchers and NFESH/Feeding America have moved back to the traditional nomenclature that does not require an explanation for many readers.
But here is something that clearly does merit some elucidation. Understandably (and likely due to the word “marginally” in the category title), many people have assumed that the marginally food insecure designation only includes those seniors who are the least severely affected by hunger. Marginally food insecure, however, actually refers to the broad classification that includes the other two categories — food insecure, and very low food secure — as subsets of that larger whole. How can that be the case?
Because the determination of the levels of food insecurity/security is based on a set of survey questions (the FSS), the number of queries to which a respondent answers in the affirmative indicates how severe their lack of food security is. All individuals who answer “yes” to at least one question (“one or more”) are deemed marginally food insecure. If they respond “yes” three or more times, they are considered food insecure; and if they answer in the affirmative to six or more questions, they are designated very low food secure. We acknowledge that the explanation is a bit arcane, but understanding it is important. We hope this makes some sense of what can be inherently confusing.
We also hope that the visuals above not only help paint a clear picture of what the categories mean but also demonstrate just how complex and nuanced senior hunger is.
For example, looking at the graphs one can see that North Carolina’s percentage of seniors who are marginally food insecure ranks them as number two worst overall. That notwithstanding, Alabama, while ranked sixth overall, has higher levels of both food insecurity and very low food secure seniors than does North Carolina.
Rhode Island does not even appear on the Top Ten Worst list (or in the graphic above) in terms of marginal food insecurity. Its overall rate is 13.6%, the same as the national average. Nevertheless in terms of very low food secure seniors, Rhode Island stands at 5.7%, the highest level of very low food secure seniors of all the States and the District of Columbia. That is an issue deserving of attention, and the chart on page 7 of the report (click here) makes that clear.
What’s inside the numbers? A great deal of valuable information. And as is true with a jigsaw puzzle, one has got to put all the pieces together in order to get an accurate picture of the state of senior hunger in America. That’s what the 2016 report does.