09/14/2011 12:08 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2011

Middle-Aged Americans At Greater Risk Of Hunger Because Of Recession

If further proof were needed of the far-reaching harm caused by the Great Recession, it would seem to have arrived in the form of a study from the University of Kentucky and the University of Illinois, which finds that a much higher number of middle-aged Americans faced the threat of not having enough food during those years.

The report, which researchers conducted for the AARP, found a sharp jump in the number of Americans aged 40 to 59 who reported suffering from the threat, the risk or the reality of "food insecurity" between 2007 and 2009. The journalist and author Fred Powledge has defined food security as the "access... at all times to the food needed for a healthy life" -- a property that Americans saw slipping away during the recession, which pushed millions out of work and damaged the wealth of countless households.

People between the ages of 40 and 49 were especially affected, with a full 68 percent of this group saying they had faced a greater risk of hunger during the recession. People ages 50 to 59 were also hard hit, with hunger risks among that group increasing 38 percent.

As the study notes, Americans in their forties and fifties are especially vulnerable to food insecurity, since they are too young to qualify for safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security and generally too old for programs aimed at people with young children. To make matters worse, it's often harder for people in this age group to find a new job if they become unemployed -- and if they can find a job, there's a good chance it will pay less than their last one.

Even within these hardest-hit groups, there are people who have it worse than others. People living in the South and Southwest are at greater risk for hunger than people in other parts of the country, and among blacks and Hispanics, the danger of food insecurity is twice as high as it is for whites -- further evidence that the recession took a particularly heavy toll on minority communities.

While the study sheds light on the particular troubles faced by Americans in middle age, it's been well documented that the economic downturn of recent years has had a direct effect on people's kitchen tables. Food stamp use has jumped 70 percent in the last four years, and almost 49 million people -- including more than 16 million children -- now face the risk of not having enough to eat, according to figures recently released by the Department of Agriculture.