According to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition, a supportive social environment may protect against nutritional risk among middle and older-aged adults.
Older aged individuals are more vulnerable to nutritional risk and health outcomes related to inadequate nutrition due to physiological changes associated with the aging process. In addition, social circumstances such as eating alone, insufficient help with grocery shopping, and meal preparation may also contribute to nutritional risk in older aged adults. Evidence from diverse health-related research illustrates the importance of strong social ties. Furthermore, impaired social support networks are not only associated with increased risk for mortality, but also poor nutritional behaviors. Numerous social factors such as being married, having a sense of trust and security in the community, and participating in religious organizations are also associated with good nutritional status. While the relationship between individual social factors and nutritional health has been previously evaluated, the simultaneous relationship between multiple social factors and their overall contribution to the strength of the social environment has not been considered. As social factors may act synergistically to affect nutritional outcomes, an investigation that assesses multiple social factors in combination is warranted.
To bridge this knowledge gap, Nielsen (McGill University) and colleagues assessed the relationship between distinct profiles of social environment and nutritional risk status among adults. Latent structure analysis was used to identify profiles of social environment, which were composed of individual measures related to support including network size, social support, social cohesion, and objective social isolation. Evaluation of the consumption of major food groups (whole grains, protein foods, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables) by social environment profiles and nutritional risk status was also assessed. To explore whether associations varied across life stages, analyses were conducted among the total sample as well as by middle-aged (40-65 years) and older-aged (>65 years) subgroups.
Utilizing baseline data from the Comprehensive Cohort of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, data were collected via telephone survey and in-person assessment between 2011 and 2015. This study assessed physical, economic, psychological, demographic, and behavioral aspects of 51,338 (30,097 in the Comprehensive Cohort) study participants between 45-86 years of age. A total of 24 discrete social measures related to support were condensed to form indicator subgroups for latent structure analysis: network size, social support, social cohesion, and the social isolation index.
Findings from this investigation indicate that nutritional risk scores varied significantly between social environment profiles in a dose-response manner among both middle-aged and older-aged individuals. The low support social environment profile had the poorest nutritional outcomes and these outcomes improved as support increased in the social environment. The low support social environment profile also scored poorest on nearly all social environment screening items, suggesting that low support in the social environment is pertinent to the full set of risk factors and determinants that encompass nutritional risk.
A more supportive social environment may protect against nutritional risk among middle and older-aged adults. Strategies for reducing nutritional risk can benefit from evaluating social factors as contributors to the issue, particularly how social factors are related to dietary intake.
In a companion commentary, Cahill (Dalhousie University) offers actionable targets of intervention to support the social environment of middle-aged and older adults.
Ingham N, Labonte K, Dube L, Paquet C, Nielsen D. A more supportive social environment may protect against nutritional risk: A cross-sectional analysis using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Issue 6, June 2023, Pages 1793-1802, doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.01.020.
Cahill LE. Supporting Supper: A Supportive Social Environment is Important for Health Nutrition in Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Volume 153, Issue 6, June 2023, Pages 1661-1662, doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.03.036.
Images via canva.com.