Decreasing food insecurity in older adults may decrease the rate of cognitive decline, study flags
20 Feb 2023 --- Researchers in the US have found that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – the country’s largest federally funded nutrition program – may help defend against accelerated deterioration of cognition in adults 65 years of age or older.
The study utilized the National Health and Aging Trends Study that took place between 2012 and 2020 and used a representative sample of 4,578 participants with a median follow-up time of five years.
“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,” says Muzi Na, lead researcher on the study and assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in Pennsylvania.
Reducing more than just hunger
While the authors hold that much research has been done showing SNAP’s effects on reducing hunger and food insecurity, they further state that there is very little info on how the program may affect brain aging.
Published in The Journal of Nutrition, the study separated all of the participants into two self-reported categories – food sufficient or food insufficient – and then further grouped them into three more categories as either participating in SNAP, eligible but not participating or ineligible and not participating in the program.
The results showed that food insecure adults’ brains showed a cognitive-age decline of 3.8 years for those who were food insecure compared to those not suffering from food insecurity and 4.5 years for those who were eligible for SNAP benefits but not participating in the program.
Additionally, the authors argue that the correlation between participation in the program and decreased cognitive decline is strengthened by the fact that the rates of cognitive decline were similar in those who were both food secure and did not qualify for the program and those who were food insecure but still participated in the program.
“For an aging population, roughly four years of brain aging can be very significant,” Na explains.
An increasing threat
The authors also highlight that food insecurity has more than doubled – increasing from 5.5% to 12.4% – over the last decade for people 60 years and older, according to the 2007–2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The authors further state that more research should be conducted to investigate the impact of SNAP participation and food insecurity on cognitive decline.
“We need to make sure that people have access to — and encourage them to use — the SNAP program as they age,” Na concludes.
Edited by William Bradford Nichols
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