“Have You Eaten?”

October 17, 2014
Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging and ACL Administrator

What people say when they greet each other can tell us about their culture as well as their community’s experience. One traditional Mandarin greeting translates into English as "Have you eaten?" Linguists believe this practice probably started when food was scarce and people were often hungry. A recent study in the United States indicated that 8.8% of households with older adults are food insecure, which means they aren’t sure where or how they will get their next meal.

ACL administers the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program through a network of state departments of aging, area agencies on aging, and local nutrition providers. This federal program provided funds which served over 2.5 million older adults in 2011, many of whom rely on the program for their next meal.

Living with food insecurity—not knowing where your next meal will come from—is not just stressful, it increases risk of serious illness. A recent study shows that older adults who are food insecure are three times more likely to have clinical depression. The study also found that seniors at risk of hunger are 50% more likely to have diabetes and nearly 60% more likely to have congestive heart failure or experience a heart attack. According to the Older Americans 2012—Key Indicators of Well-Being (PDF) report, diabetes and heart disease are two of the most common and costly chronic health conditions.

The Older Adults Act Nutrition Program reduces food insecurity among older adults by providing wholesome meals in group settings and by delivering meals to older homebound individuals. The Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, also helps reduce food insecurity among the very poor. Unfortunately, only one in three eligible older adults participate in SNAP. For more information about SNAP and other benefits, visit the Benefits Checkup website. Visit Older Americans Act Nutrition Program to learn more about the federal nutrition programs.

Last modified on 05/06/2020

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