This study examined the nature and extent of hunger, food insecurity, and nutritional health issues in the elderly population of Mississippi. Lokken combined research and teaching to conduct the study, using a two-phase data collection process. In phase I, students conducted 62 face-to-face interviews with elderly individuals, collecting qualitative data which they used to develop the survey instrument for phase II of the study. The students were responsible for conducting telephone interviews during phase II of the study, resulting in 212 completed interviews.
Lokken and her students explored the following issues: (a) the adequacy of current food stamp allotments, (b) the effects of food stamp reforms on the elderly, (c) the degree of hunger and food insecurity and the patterns of eating among low-income elderly in Mississippi, and (d) the characteristics of the high-risk elderly. Qualitative findings from phase I indicate hunger and food insecurity in Mississippi. The major food issue affecting low-income elderly is the lack of sufficient money to purchase healthful foods, including fresh produce and meat. Other issues include lack of access to transportation, poor overall health, and lack of nutrition education.
For the second phase, respondents were randomly selected from a purchased telephone list of 10,000 Mississippi residents who were 55 years of age or older and had household incomes of 150 percent or less of the poverty level for a family of two. Of the 212 respondents, 19.4 percent were currently receiving food assistance, 49.5 percent had less than a high school education, 47.9 percent were White and 49.3 percent were African American, and 77.4 percent were female.
Lokken tested several hypotheses in the second phase of the study. First, she expected to find that low-income elderly currently receiving food stamps would be made better off (that is, have lower levels of hunger, food insecurity, and nutritional risk) than those not receiving food stamps. Her regression models showed that three factors have a significant impact on food insecurity: current food assistance receipt, ethnicity, and access to adequate cooking utensils. However, without controlling for factors affecting the individual's decision to participate in the Food Stamp Program, this result cannot be taken as an indicator of the effect of food stamp receipt on food security.
A second set of hypotheses examined a number of possible predictors of food insecurity and hunger among low-income elderly in Mississippi. Lokken found a number of factors statistically related to experiencing food insecurity and hunger, including food stamp participation, ethnicity, level of education, recent changes in weight, poor health, eating fewer than two meals a day, often being without enough money to buy food, lacking adequate cooking utensils, and having tooth or mouth problems.