That is an inquiry we have all been hearing from a number of quarters lately, including major news organizations, political leaders on both sides of the aisle and issues, and the social media platforms we Americans have come to rely on to contribute and/or receive information. Questions range from what is real and what is right to what is presented or withheld. Don’t worry. We have no intention of entering that fray here. But all the noise has caused us to contemplate the way we present our news and to think about how we would and should respond, were those same questions applied to us. So we have some answers to share.
First, we should clarify what we are categorizing as “our news” here. It is primarily the annual research conducted by Dr. James Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen, which NFESH has been releasing regularly since 2008, that looks at hunger among the population age 60 and older. Folks familiar with those reports – which we assume most of our readers are – know that the metric used to track progress or regress year over year is the percentage of individuals age 60 or older who suffer from some level of food insecurity. Those fractions of the senior population are presented for both of the United States as a whole and for the individual states. For many years the focus of the research was on the broadest category – namely marginal food insecurity, or what we termed threat of hunger – because it encompassed all three levels of food insecurity. This year’s report includes all three categories or levels arrayed side-by-side. Since that report we have been focusing our attention on the middle level known as food insecurity.
Reporting on or evaluating food insecurity as a percentage of the population affected is certainly the accepted practice as a broad national approach and a method of achieving equity and consistency year after year. In addition to presenting these food insecurity percentages, the Ziliak-Gundersen reports identify a number of specific risk factors for food insecurity and the incidence (percent) with which they occur in the older population nationally.
So, what is the purpose of laying out all that background here in the context of the “what’s behind the news” question we have posed? To do just that; namely, to provide background on how we are going about the task of answering that question. The first step was to pose some additional ones, such as “how many seniors are food insecure in each state?” and “how many older adults fall into each of the risk factor categories in each state?” When we did the math, we saw that the diversity of level of need and incidence was enormous from state to state. Frankly, in some states it became clear that the sheer number of individuals negatively affected by a single or multiple factors could become what would be considered an aggravating factor in a court of law. And that needs to be recognized when we make our comparisons. We need to recognize and quantify a host of aggravating factors.
When we began digging deeper and looking more closely in the federal AGing Integrated Database (AGID) we began to notice that some states with relatively small overall senior populations were pulling down quite a bit more Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP) dollars than some of those with significantly larger ones. We asked ourselves why. And more important, rather how. Of course we knew the evident response: they were serving more NSIP eligible meals. But that response was not an answer! We were and are eager to solve that query with information and data, and so we are beginning the process of gathering and analyzing that.
We know some states have more financial resources and varied funding sources that augment Older Americans Act dollars than others. But we also believe that there is much more to it than that. Surely state policies and procedures, program instructions and their application, and a vast array of other processes drive and enhance efficient and effective senior nutrition services statewide… or they inadvertently hamper it. Those that hamper we will add to the list of aggravating factors. Those that help we will term mitigating ones – and note them as ones worthy of sharing and replicating.
We have selected 13 diverse states and we are going to take a long look, a deep dive into all the issues and factors we have enumerated above. When we have finished we will have some real new news to report that we trust you can use.