For the second year in a row, Kentucky ranked first nationwide for food insecurity among residents ages 50 to 59, according to a study prepared for Feeding America.

The state also ranked highest in the “very low food security” category for that age range.

The study of 2018 statistics — the most recent available — was conducted by Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois and James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky. They found more than 17% of Kentucky residents in that age group struggled with hunger.

At 2.6%, Colorado ranked lowest in food insecurity among the 50 to 59 age group.

Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the nation.

“During the writing of this report, the nation is in the midst of the COVID-19 health pandemic, with dire health and economic consequences,” the report’s executive summary said. “While this health shock affects everyone, the virus’ death rate increases with age, putting 50- to 59-year-olds at a higher risk than younger adults .... Given the links between food insecurity and negative health outcomes, this is particularly concerning for this age group.”

Dana Peveler, executive director of the Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County, manages the local Meals on Wheels program and several local congregate meal sites. Peveler and her staff are in contact with hungry seniors every day.

People ages 62 and older have access to Social Security and other benefits, Peveler said.

“But the group identified in that study has fewer options as far as resources,” she said.

People in the 50 to 59 age group usually are not retired. While those residents may be working, they may not earn enough in today’s economy to provide proper nutrition for their households, Peveler said.

Residents under the age of 60 who are disabled and who live in a senior-living facility qualify for the Senior Community Center’s congregate meals. Peveler said the center has seen an increase in the number of residents in that category at feeding sites.

The national report also found that food insecurity affects divorced, widowed or separated adults disproportionately.

In addition, blacks suffer at a much higher rate than whites. For example, about 9% of the nation’s caucasian population is food insecure, as compared to more than 19% of blacks.

“We should not tolerate having any older adult or senior citizen in Kentucky at risk of hunger after decades of hard work,” Tamara Sandberg, Feeding Kentucky executive director, said in a press release. “It is especially troubling to see so many Kentuckians aged 50 to 59 struggling to put (food) on the table and having to choose between food and medical care — a situation the pandemic will only make worse.”

To read the 22-page report titled “Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2018,” go to https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/2020-Hunger%20Among%20Adults%2050-59%20in%202018.pdf.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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