Food sufficiency and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program participation may be protective factors preventing accelerated cognitive decline in older adults, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Nutrition. Na (Penn State College of Health and Human Development) and co-authors reported that older adults considered food insecure experienced faster cognitive declines compared to food secure peers.

Older adults living with food insecurity are more likely to experience malnutrition, depression, and physical functioning limitations.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federally funded nutrition assistance program in the United States and is known to reduce hunger and food insecurity in the general population. However, little evidence is available on how SNAP status may impact brain aging in older adults. To bridge this knowledge gap, the authors investigated the relationship between food insecurity experience, SNAP status, and subsequent cognitive decline in a national representative sample of older adults in the United States.

Longitudinal data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study 2012-2020 were analyzed.  Participants reported food insecurity experience and were classified as food sufficient or food insufficient. The SNAP status was defined as SNAP participants, SNAP eligible nonparticipants, and SNAP ineligible nonparticipants. Validated cognitive function tests were used to generate a combined cognitive function score.

In this national sample of older adults, different trajectories of cognitive decline between 2012 and 2020 were identified by food insufficiency status or SNAP status. Compared with the food secure group, food insecurity was associated with faster decline in the combined cognitive function scores. Cognitive decline rates in the combined score were similar in SNAP participants and SNAP ineligible nonparticipants, both of which were slower than the rate of SNAP eligible nonparticipants. 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 nonparticipation group was equivalent to being 4.5 years older. Future studies are warranted to investigate the impact of addressing food insecurity and promoting SNAP participant on cognitive health in older adults.


Na M, Dou N, Brown MJ, Chen-Edinboro LP, Anderson LR, Wennberg A. Food Insufficiency, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Status, and 9-year Trajectory of Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Longitudinal National Health and Aging Trends Study, 2012-2020. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Issue 1, January 2023, Pages 312-321.

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