According to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition, current tools used to assess food security among older adults do not measure the ability to shop for food and prepare meals, and therefore may fail to identify those at the highest risk.

Economic food insecurity tools are used to detect need for assistance in the general population. However, research consistently shows that in older adults, food insecurity can also be due to factors other than economic, such as physical inability to shop or cook. Although economic food insecurity has been well researched, little is known about the additional implications of physical food insecurity (the inability to shop for and prepare food).  To better understand food insecurity in older adults (>60 years of age) due to both economic and physical barriers, researcher Nadine Sahyoun (University of Maryland) and colleagues utilized data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2013-2014, 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 cycles), a nationwide survey conducted in the United States to assess health and nutritional status. The study examined: 1) the proportion of older adults in the United States who experience physical and/or economic food insecurity; 2) differences in diet quality, chronic conditions, and depression by economic and/or physical food insecurity; and 3) the relation of physical and economic food insecurity with diet quality and depression.

In this cohort of 4820 adults, 25% had physical difficulty accessing food but were not living in economically food insecure households, and these individuals had significantly lower diet quality scores and were significantly more depressed than those who were completely food secure. The authors concluded that considering physical ability to shop for and prepare food when measuring food insecurity in older adults can help identify those in greatest need of dietary and mental health support. Furthermore, these individuals may otherwise be missed if only measuring economic access.

In a companion commentary, Dr. Jung Sun Lee (University of Georgia) underscores the need to broaden the definition of food insecurity to better assess and monitor this issue, and the need to target food assistance programs among older adults.


Anna M Vaudin, Alanna J Moshfegh, Nadine R Sahyoun, Measuring Food Insecurity in Older Adults Using Both Physical and Economic Food Access, NHANES 2013–18, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 8, August 2022, Pages 1953–1962,

Jung Sun Lee, Food Insecurity in Older Adults, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 8, August 2022, Pages 1808–1809,

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