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Portrait of Haowei Wang

Haowei Wang

Cognitive impairment and dementia are severe public health issues in aging populations, which can be exacerbated by insufficient or unhealthy dietary intake. Food (in)security status is linked to cognitive function among older adults, but the relationship is complex and can vary by sociodemographic characteristics.

This article aimed to investigate the association between food insecurity and cognitive function among United States older adults and explore potential variations by race and ethnicity groups.

We prospectively examined changes in cognitive function and incidence of cognitive impairment alongside the presence of self-reported food insecurity among older adults of different racial and ethnic groups. Data were from the 2012–2018 Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the 2013 Health Care and Nutrition Study (HCNS), including N = 6,638 United States adults aged 50 years and older. Food insecurity was measured by a self-reported United States Household Food Security Survey Module, and cognitive function was assessed by the modified version of the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status.

Results showed that 17% of United States older adults reported food insecurity in the 2013 HCNS. Compared with food secure older adults, those reporting food insecurity experienced worsened cognitive functioning over time (B = −0.63, p < .001), and they were more likely to have onset of cognitive impairment (OR= 1.46, p < .001) in the 6-y observation. Compared with non-Hispanic White older adults, being non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Other, or Hispanic was associated with 2.96, 2.09, or 1.26 odds (p < .001) of cognitive impairment (2012–2018), respectively. Older adults of racial and ethnic minority groups also had higher risks of experiencing the double burden of cognitive impairment alongside food insecurity compared with non-Hispanic White older adults.

Findings underscore racial and ethnic structural disparities in food security and cognitive health in the United States aging population.