Key Takeaways

  • SNAP assistance enables nearly 5 million older Americans to afford fresh, nutritious food—which supports their overall health in many ways.

  • By making it easier to eat healthfully, SNAP helps older adults prevent chronic disease and stay independent for longer.

  • If you’re wondering how to apply for SNAP, you can find eligibility information and other resources at BenefitsCheckup.org.

In 2019, 2.9 million food-insecure households included an adult age 65 or older. Older adults who are dealing with food insecurity often lack sufficient calories and nutrients and have a lower-quality diet than people who have enough to eat—all of which can have a negative impact on their health.

As the largest hunger safety-net program in the U.S., the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps nearly 5 million of these seniors put nutritious and satisfying food on their table. Not only does SNAP reduce hunger among older adults who are food-insecure; it also supports their overall health and well-being in many important ways.

Ms. W., age 63, is a real-life example of SNAP's impact. As a result of severe health issues, she is no longer able to work or drive. She's using the little savings she has for healthcare expenses, and there's not much left to buy food each month. Thankfully, SNAP assistance has made it easier for Ms. W. to stock her fridge.

"Before, I was having just one meal a day," she told NCOA. "Now I'm able to get the food I need."

What are some of the health benefits of SNAP?

1. SNAP gives seniors access to fresh produce and other healthy foods they might otherwise not be able to afford.

Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have provided science-based advice on what we should eat and drink to meet our daily nutrient needs. According to the latest guidelines, older adults should consume more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy in order to support healthy aging.

The average SNAP benefit for older adults is $104 per month—extra funds they can use to add more nutritious food to their diet.

Ms. Vang, a 69-year-old from Minneapolis, credits food benefits like SNAP for helping her to eat healthier while living with high blood pressure and diabetes. “Now I can buy more healthy foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits which I normally couldn’t afford,” Vang told her Benefits Enrollment Center advocate, who helped her enroll into the program.

What can SNAP benefits be used for? A SNAP card can be presented at grocery and convenience stores to buy fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, breads, cereals, dairy products, and non-alcoholic beverages. SNAP benefits can even be used at participating local farmers’ markets, giving seniors access to the freshest, most delicious produce money can buy.

2. SNAP can help prevent chronic disease.

A nutritionally deficient diet puts older adults at risk for developing or exacerbating chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. In addition, the financial stress related to ongoing food insecurity is thought to contribute to a more rapid onset or progression of chronic disease.

Food insecurity has also been linked to poorer overall health, depression, muscle weakness, and decreased bone mass, which may lead to conditions like osteoporosis. By adding more nutrient-dense foods to their diet using SNAP benefits, older adults can reduce their risk of debilitating health problems that compromise their quality of life.   

3. SNAP can help reduce the risk of falls.

Each year, more than 3 million older adults sustain injuries by falling. Many falls are caused by frailty and vitamin D deficiency—both linked to food insecurity and poor nutrient intake. Addressing food insecurity through programs like SNAP may help reduce fall rates in senior populations.

4. SNAP can help seniors continue to live independently.

In addition to reducing falls that may land them in the hospital, a balanced diet can also help older adults maintain the strength and mobility needed to take care of themselves. This will allow them to age in place and keep leading an active and independent life. Having access to enough food for a nutritious diet helps facilitate recovery from surgery and injuries as well. It even plays a role in how fast wounds heal.

5. SNAP has been linked with better medication adherence.

Older adults experiencing food insecurity may be tempted to cut costs in other areas in order to afford groceries. This might mean skipping doses of prescribed medications, delaying refills, or even cutting doses in half. SNAP provides critical assistance that makes food more affordable, leaving extra money for seniors to put toward medications, medical care, and other health-promoting activities. One study found that SNAP participation may help older adults with diabetes stick to their treatment regimens.

6. SNAP may help improve healthcare outcomes.

According to a recent, North Carolina-based study, SNAP enrollment is associated with fewer emergency room visits, hospital stays, and long-term care admissions.

7. SNAP contributes to lower healthcare costs.

High healthcare costs affect all of us—particularly those with low incomes. Poor diets contribute to nearly 20% of U.S. healthcare costs stemming from chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. This equates to approximately $50 billion each year.

The North Carolina study mentioned above found that SNAP participation can help lower Medicaid costs. The improved healthcare outcomes resulting from SNAP assistance translated into an estimated $2,360 reduction in Medicaid spending per person annually. Another study linked SNAP participation with shorter, less expensive hospital stays.  

Do you need SNAP assistance? Find out if you’re eligible.

Nationally, about 4.8 million older adults age 60+ are enrolled in SNAP. Yet this number represents just 48% of those who are eligible for the program. While senior enrollment has increased over the past decade, too many older adults are still missing out on vital benefits that can help improve their life.

BenefitsCheckup.org makes it easy to find your state’s SNAP website as well as information on SNAP benefit amounts by state, SNAP income limits, and how to apply for SNAP. Since 44 states allow you to apply online, you’ll also find links to online SNAP applications. Take a simple, quick screening to see if you or a loved one potentially qualifies for assistance.