Summary: Food insecurity was associated with accelerated cognitive decline and brain aging in older adults.
Source: Penn State
Older people living with food insecurity are more likely to suffer from malnutrition, depression and physical limitations that affect their lifestyle. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federally funded nutrition assistance program in the United States, and research has shown that SNAP has reduced hunger and food insecurity in the general population.
However, little evidence is available on how SNAP may impact brain aging in older adults. To fill this knowledge gap, Muzi Na, an assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State, led a team of researchers who studied the relationship between food insecurity, SNAP, and cognitive decline. They found that dietary sufficiency and participation in SNAP may help protect against accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.
In a new article published in The Nutrition Diary, 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 of food insecurity and were categorized as sufficient food or insufficient food.
SNAP status was defined as SNAP participants, SNAP eligible non-participants, and SNAP ineligible non-participants. The researchers found that food-insecure adults experienced cognitive declines faster than their food-secure peers.
The researchers identified different trajectories of cognitive decline using dietary insufficiency status or SNAP status. Rates of cognitive decline were similar in SNAP participants and SNAP ineligible nonparticipants, both slower than the rate of SNAP eligible nonparticipants.
The higher rate of cognitive decline observed in the food-insecure group was equivalent to 3.8 years longer, while the higher rate of cognitive decline observed in the SNAP-eligible non-participant group was equivalent to 4.5 years older.
“For an aging population, around four years of brain aging can be very significant,” Na explained. “These findings really underscore 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. We need to make sure people have access to – and encourage them to use – the SNAP program as they age.
Future studies are warranted to investigate the impact of addressing food insecurity and promoting SNAP participation on cognitive health in older adults, Na said.
Nan Dou from Penn State, Monique Brown from the University of South Carolina, Lenis Chen-Edinboro from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Loretta Anderson from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Alexandra Wennberg from the Karolinska Institutet of Stockholm all contributed to this research.
Funding: This research was supported by funding from the Broadhurst Career Development Chair for the Study of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health.
About this news on research on aging, cognition and poverty
Author: Sara LaJeunesse
Source; Penn State
Contact: Sara LaJeunesse – Penn State
Picture: Image is in public domain
Original research: Free access.
“Dietary Insufficiency, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) Status, and 9-Year Trajectory of Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Longitudinal Study of National Health and Aging Trends, 2012-2020” by Muzi Na et para. Nutrition review
Dietary Insufficiency, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) Status, and 9-Year Trajectory of Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A National Longitudinal Study of Health and Aging Trends, 2012-2020
Despite findings from cross-sectional studies, the relationship between experience of food insecurity and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) status and cognitive decline over time has not been fully understood.
Our aim was to investigate longitudinal associations between food insecurity/SNAP status and cognitive function in older adults (≥65 years).
Longitudinal data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study 2012-2020 were analyzed (n = 4578, median follow-up years = 5 years). Participants reported an experience of food insecurity (5 items) and were classified as sufficient food (FS, no affirmative response) and insufficient food (FI, any affirmative response). SNAP status was defined as SNAP participants, SNAP eligible nonparticipants (≤200% of the Federal Poverty Level, FPL), and SNAP ineligible nonparticipants (>200% FPL). Cognitive function was measured via validated tests in 3 domains, and domain-specific and combined standardized cognitive function z-scores were calculated. Mixed-effects models with random intercept were used to investigate how FI or SNAP status was associated with combined and domain-specific cognitive z-scores over time, adjusting for static and time-varying covariates.
At baseline, 96.3% of participants were FS and 3.7% were FI. In a subsample (n=2,832), 10.8% were SNAP participants, 30.7% were SNAP eligible non-participants, and 58.6% were SNAP ineligible non-participants. Compared to the FS group in the adjusted model (FI vs FS), FI was associated with a more rapid decline in combined cognitive function scores (−0.043 (−0.055, −0.032) vs −0.033 (−0.035, −0.031) z – scores per year, P-interaction = 0.064). Rates of cognitive decline (z-scores per year) in the combined score were similar in SNAP participants (β = -0.030; 95% CI: -0.038, -0.022) and ineligible SNAP non-participants (β = – 0.028; 95% CI: -0.032, -0.024), both of which were slower than the rate among SNAP-eligible non-participants (β = -0.043; 95% CI: -0.048, -0.038; P-interaction < 0.0001).
Dietary sufficiency and participation in SNAP may be protective factors preventing accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.