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Rising grocery costs pushing older Americans to eat less healthy foods

“For our most vulnerable older adults, the huge increase we’ve seen in food costs could make a bad situation worse.”
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Story at a glance


  • The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging suggests more than a third of people aged 50 to 80 say the rising cost of groceries has impacted them a lot. 

  • Close to 34 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 are being pushed toward less healthy diets as costs increase. 

  • The poll is based on findings from a nationally representative survey. 

Rising grocery costs have impacted more than three quarters of older Americans, forcing some to eat less healthy foods, according to a new national poll.  

The University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging suggests more than a third of people aged 50 to 80 say the rising cost of groceries has impacted them a lot, while close to 34 percent of Americans aged 50 to 64 say they now have less healthy diets. 

Labor Department data released earlier in September shows consumer prices rising 8.3 percent over last year with some of the highest price increases seen in the nation’s grocery aisles. 

The poll found that those with poorer mental and physical health, those within low-income households or those with less formal education are hit the hardest.  

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed who say they are negatively impacted by increased costs rated their mental health as fair or poor compared with 46 percent of those who said the same about their physical health. Another 56 percent who live in households earning less than $30,000 annually said they have been hit hard by grocery prices. 

More than half of respondents who indicated they are in poor mental or physical health say they do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. 

“For our most vulnerable older adults, the huge increase we’ve seen in food costs could make a bad situation worse,” Preeti Malani, director of the poll and a physician at Michigan Medicine, said in a statement. “As the White House convenes its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health this week, these new findings suggest a need for better support of the food needs of adults over 50.” 

The poll is based on findings from a nationally representative survey conducted online and by phone in July by NORC at the University of Chicago and measures the responses of 2,163 adults aged 50 to 80. 

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The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows more than 10 percent of adults over the age of 65 lived below the poverty line in 2021 – marking a 1.4 percent increase from the year before. 

To help meet their needs, older Americans who meet certain income criteria can apply for food benefits, like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). But a 2015 study found that fewer than half of eligible seniors took part in the program.