Food Insecurity a Dementia Risk Factor?


Food insecurity among older adults is associated with increased dementia risk, poorer memory function, and faster memory decline, new research indicates.


  • Researchers analyzed data on 7012 adults (mean age, 67 years; 59% women) from the US Health and Retirement Study.

  • Food security status was assessed in 2013 using a validated survey, with cognitive outcomes evaluated between 2014 and 2018.

  • Analyses were adjusted for demographics, socioeconomics, and health factors.


  • About 18% of adults were food insecure, with 10% reporting low food security and 8% very low food security. About 11% of those aged 65+ in 2013 were food insecure.

  • The odds of dementia were 38% higher (odds ratio [OR], 1.38; 95% CI, 1.15 – 1.67) in adults with low food security and 37% higher (OR, 1.37; 95% CI 1.11-1.59) in those with very low food security, compared with food-secure adults.

  • Translated to years of excess cognitive aging, food insecurity was associated with increased dementia risk equivalent to roughly 1.3 excess years of aging.

  • Low and very low food security were also associated with lower memory levels and faster age-related memory decline.


“Our study contributes to a limited literature by capitalizing on a large and diverse sample, validated exposure and outcome measures, and longitudinal data to robustly evaluate these associations, providing evidence in support of the connection between food insecurity in older adulthood and subsequent brain health,” the authors write. “Our findings highlight the need to improve food security in older adults and that doing so may protect individuals from cognitive decline and dementia.”


The study, with first author Haobing Qian, PhD, with the University of California San Francisco, was published online November 21 in JAMA Network Open.


Residual confounding cannot be rule out. Food insecurity was not assessed prior to 2013. The researchers lacked information on clinical dementia diagnoses.


The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The authors report no relevant conflicts of interest.

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