Food insufficiency linked to faster cognitive decline, study shows
Older people facing food insufficiency are more likely to show rapid cognitive decline, according to a new study.
Researchers examined data from thousands of older adults in the US, looking at their cognitive health, level of food insufficiency and insecurity, and whether they use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps low-income individuals in the country to buy nutritious food items.
The study incorporated information from eligible SNAP participants and nonparticipants, and ineligible SNAP nonparticipants.
From this data, researchers classified individuals as food sufficient or food insufficient, and compared their levels of cognitive health.
In comparison to those who were food sufficient, elderly people who classified as food insufficient demonstrated a cognitive decline equivalent to being almost four years older than their actual age.
According to the report, older adults who were eligible but did not participate in SNAP showed a much faster cognitive decline rate than SNAP participants – one that would be expected if they were four and a half years older than their current age.
The researchers suggest cognitive decline is likely the result of poor nutrition, as well as the stress associated with financial struggle and being unable able to buy enough food.
Between 2007 and 2016 the number of older people facing food insecurity in the US rose from 5.5% to 12.4%. While past research has shown that SNAP has helped to prevent many young people from going hungry, studies also show the program has struggled to support elderly people and older women living alone.
The analysis was carried out by researchers from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, University of South Carolina, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Karolinksa Institutet in Stockholm.