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In the United States, a new study analyzing the eating habits of thousands of individuals and their cognitive health has pinpointed an important fact: people who do not have enough to fill their plate properly are the most likely to suffer a rapid cognitive decline. A public health issue.
It’s not just junk food that can harm a person’s health. According to a recent American study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2023, food insufficiency, i.e. not having enough food on a daily basis, is associated with faster cognitive decline. An important, even worrying discovery, when we know that in the United States, the proportion of elderly people who lack food has more than doubled in 10 years. Moreover, the inflation that France is experiencing could well have the same effect, while 9.3 million people already live below the poverty line.
Food insecurity causes cognitive functions to age by 4.5 years
So the study authors analyzed data from 4,578 Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 or older who participated in the 2012-2020 National Health and Aging Trends StudyTrusted Source. They thus collected information on their sociodemographic status, their social, physical and technological environment, their medical comorbidities and their cognitive function. Individuals were identified as having sufficient nutrition or insufficient nutrition based on their responses to questionnaires regarding food insecurity, and their eligible status for a US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was recorded.
According to their observations:
- People who were economically eligible for the nutrition program but did not participate experienced a faster rate of cognitive decline, equivalent to what one would expect if they were 4.5 years older than their age real ;
- Compared to people who ate enough, those who lacked food had greater cognitive decline, equivalent to 3.8 years longer;
- People who had enough food experienced the slowest rate of mental aging. The results of the study appear in The Journal of Nutrition.
NO to diets, YES to WW!
The link between attitude and cognitive decline is found at several levels
What is the link between what these people can eat and their cognitive health? According to the researchers, in the event of food insufficiency, two causes would mainly intervene in the decline. The first is a lack of vitamins and micronutrients important enough to support overall health, including brain function. The second probable causal pathway could be to find oneself in a state of prolonged financial stress, stress also being associated with rapid cognitive decline.
A study that does not surprise Dr. Alice Desbiolles, public health doctor and author consulted by Doctissimo
“This study only reinforces the knowledge that we already have in public health on what is called the social gradient. That is to say that the further down the social ladder one goes, the lower the quality of health. This is valid in many pathologies (obesity, etc.), but also in cognitive health. In addition, the question of quantity that arises goes hand in hand with the question of quality, because ultra-processed products impact vascular health, and vascular health is also a cause of dementia” she argues.
Faced with the inflation in place and the growing inequalities, the doctor pleads for measures at various levels. Beyond the PNNS (National Nutrition and Health Programme) launched in 2001, the general objective of which is to improve the state of health of the entire population through nutrition, actions must be carried out at the territorial. Loss of cooking knowledge and food marketing that shape behaviors (particularly towards processed foods) are also a problem, she says. But all is not gloomy.
“Public health professionals insist on global measures, on marketing but also to leverage prices, to make products that are good for health accessible (and tax sodas, etc.). These are ways to reduce health inequalities, which have an impact.” she recalls.