Food insecurity could increase cognitive decline in older people

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In a study from Penn State and elsewhere, scientists found that older adults living with food insecurity are more likely to experience malnutrition, depression, and physical limitations that affect how they live.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federally funded nutrition-assistance program in the United States.

Recent research has shown that SNAP has reduced hunger and food insecurity in the general population.

Little evidence is available, however, on how SNAP may impact brain aging in older adults.

In the study, researchers examined the relationship between food insecurity, SNAP, and cognitive decline.

They found that food sufficiency and participation in SNAP may help protect against accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.

The researchers analyzed a representative sample of 4,578 older adults in the United States using data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, 2012-20.

Participants reported their experiences with food insecurity and were classified as food sufficient or food insufficient. The SNAP status was defined as SNAP participants, SNAP-eligible nonparticipants, and SNAP-ineligible nonparticipants.

The researchers found that food-insecure adults experienced cognitive declines more rapidly than their food-secure peers.

The greater cognitive decline rate observed in the food insecure group was equivalent to being 3.8 years older, whereas the greater cognitive decline rate observed in the SNAP-eligible nonparticipant group was equivalent to being 4.5 years older.

The team says for older people, roughly four years of brain aging can be very strong.

These results really point to the importance of food security for people as they age and the value that SNAP can have in improving people’s cognitive health as they age.

The government needs to make sure that people have access to—and encourage them to use—the SNAP program as they age.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Vitamin E may help prevent Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.

The study was conducted by Muzi Na et al and published in The Journal of Nutrition.

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