World Food Day: The silent struggles of older people facing food insecurity


In the past year, multiple and frequent crises and shocks including the conflict in Ukraine, the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing food prices, and extreme weather events brought on by climate change – have all heightened the risks to food and nutrition security around the world. 

As we mark this year’s World Food Day on 16 October, we take a look at the challenges facing older people in low- and middle-income countries as they struggle to fulfill one of the most essential of human rights: the right to food.  

Good nutrition is crucial for everyone but even more so as we get older when there is an increased risk of developing malnutrition. Lack of access to nutritious food can have consequences not only on older people’s general health and wellbeing, but also on their families, given the role of carers that older people tend to have, in particular older women  

In 2022, 2.4 billion people globally (almost 30 per cent of the global population) experienced varying degrees of food insecurity, “lacking access to nutritious, safe and sufficient food”, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 

And things are not improving in 2023 with continuing instability and conflicts around the world, and specifically how the war in Ukraine is causing uncertainty on global markets, climate change, and high levels of domestic food price inflation 

Things have just gotten worse - Report

Download our report on the impact of the global food, fuel and finance crisis on older people – “Things have just gotten worse” – it highlights older people’s risk of starvation and extreme poverty due to rising global costs.

The report is based on research carried out in Argentina, Colombia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Malawi, Mozambique, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen.

Things have just gotten worse – Report

Risks to older people exacerbated by global crises  

In a report published by HelpAge in April 2023, Things have just gotten worse”, our study on the impact of the food, fuel, and finance crisis across ten low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia highlighted just how susceptible older people are to dramatic increases in the price of food 

The study sheds light on how the struggle to afford food is affecting older people around the world. Many cannot meet their basic dietary needs and have difficulty in getting to the market to buy food or – for those who receive humanitarian aid – to reach food distribution points.  

Alarmingly, the research showed that most older people are skipping meals, reducing the amount they eat, or consuming cheaper food in order to get by.  

As one older man in Malawi said, “We reduced the number of times we eat a day. We used to eat three times a day but now we eat two times, sometimes once and it even gets worse, sometimes we do not eat at all.  

And to make matters worse, research carried out for the report revealed that many older people’s need for food can often be deprioritised by their families in favour of feeding younger family members, while others may forgo their share of food so that others can eat. 

Inadequate responses to the need for food and nutrition 

In countries affected by conflict and emergencies, the humanitarian response often overlooks the needs of older people and does not engage with them to find out what they need. The system usually prioritises children and pregnant or lactating women, while the specific nutritional needs of older people go ignored. 

“The food provided is not suitable for someone of my age. So, more often than not, I end up leaving my portion for my family, watching them eat,said one 81-year-old man in Ethiopia 

If social protection systems were in place, they would deliver some income security that might mean that older people could afford to feed themselves. But this only works if the payments provided by the pension schemes, are enough to cover basic needs.  

The change we want to see 

If we are to address older people’s need for food, we need to 

  • Strive for guaranteed universal social pensions along with stronger social protection systems which do not exclude women who may have spent less time in traditional jobs and can be flexed in times of crisis.  
  • Promote initiatives and programmes that support people’s ability to earn a living in older age, whether in rural or in urban areas 
  • As climate change creates more problems in the food supply chain, make sure to include the specific needs and experiences of older people in any policies being developed 
  • Develop responses to humanitarian crises in a manner that is inclusive of older people and that takes gender and disability into account 


HelpAge is carrying out research to understand the barriers to the inclusion of older people in humanitarian nutrition responses and will provide recommendations to make them more inclusive. 

We already know that going without food threatens older people’s current and future health, but also their resilience to future shocks. These challenges and risks are significantly higher for older women than men, due to pre-existing and underlying gender inequalities. But this is not just an issue for older people and those advocating for their rights, it can also have wider negative effects across households and families, given the role of the older person in the family and particularly caring responsibilities for children that many older women carry. This can and SHOULD be addressed. 

As World Food Day approaches, more space must be created for listening to the voices and direct experiences of older people, and that often-silent struggles in accessing food of adequate quality and quantity, despite their contribution to the production of food for their communities and the world, become more widely acknowledged. This is a fundamental step for taking collective action to create a food secure world that ‘leaves no one behind’. And it is only by means of an inclusive approach that we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of creating a world free of hunger by 2030. 

Isn’t it time that the wider world recognised the risks that older people face and took action to stop them going hungry?