Special to The Hays Daily News

TOPEKA -- Nearly 9 million Americans 50 and older face the risk of hunger, including 6.5 percent of older Kansas residents, according to new research commissioned by the AARP Foundation.

The report, "Food Insecurity Among Older Adults," found more than 9 percent of older Americans were at risk of hunger in 2009 -- a 79-percent increase since 2001.

The research, produced by James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois, is the first of its kind to examine hunger risk among people ages 50 to 59 -- the youngest of the baby boomers.

Because they typically are too young for Social Security and too old to qualify for programs designed for families with children, this age group can be hit particularly hard in bad economic times. In 2009, 4.9 million 50- to 59-year-olds were at risk of hunger, representing a staggering 38-percent increase since 2007.

"We now have a fuller picture of hunger risk among all Americans 50-plus. But sadly, it's far more bleak than before," said AARP Kansas State Director Maren Turner. "The recession has taken an especially large toll on older people -- particularly those in the middle class. Between 2007 and 2009, the most dramatic increase in food insecurity was among those with annual incomes more than twice the poverty line."

AARP Foundation announced the new research at the Meals On Wheels Association of America annual conference in Chicago. The report builds on earlier research commissioned by the association to examine hunger among people ages 60 and older. AARP Foundation is working with hunger relief organizations, such as MOWAA, to combat the growing problem of hunger among older Americans.

The report also examined hunger trends among older African Americans and Hispanics, finding the risk of hunger remains alarmingly higher among these groups than whites. The risk of hunger for African Americans and Hispanics in their 50s was twice that of whites during the years studied.

In addition, the study provided a detailed analysis of hunger risk across states and major metropolitan areas, finding hunger risk notably was higher among those residing in the South.

AARP Foundation is working to end hunger among older Americans through its Drive to End Hunger campaign. The effort is raising awareness of hunger in America and collecting donations to end the crisis. To date, the foundation has donated more than 3 million meals through local hunger relief organizations, including $10,000 to the Kansas Food Bank and $10,000 to Harvesters. The Foundation also recently announced a grant-making program to fund innovative hunger-fighting efforts across the country.

"No one in this country -- of any age -- should go hungry. With compassion and collaboration, we can solve this problem," Turner said.

For more information, visit www.aarp.org.