Food insecurity and cognitive function in Puerto Rican adults

Xiang Gao, Tammy Scott, Luis M. Falcon, Parke E. Wilde, Katherine L. Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Background: Food insecurity is associated with nutrient inadequacy and a variety of unfavorable health outcomes. However, little is known about whether food security is associated with lower cognitive function in the elderly. Objective: We investigated the prevalence of food insecurity in a representative sample of 1358 Puerto Ricans aged 45-75 y living in Massachusetts in relation to cognitive function performances. Design: Food security was assessed with the US Household Food Security Scale. Cognitive function was measured to capture general cognition with a battery of 7 tests: Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), word list learning (verbal memory), digit span (attention), clock drawing and figure copying (visual-spatial ability), and Stroop and verbal fluency tests (fluency executive functioning). Results: The overall prevalence of food insecurity during the past 12 mo was 12.1%; 6.1% of the subjects reported very low food security. Food insecurity was inversely associated with global cognitive performance, as assessed by the MMSE score. The adjusted difference in the MMSE score was -0.90 (95% CI: -1.6, -0.19; P for trend = 0.003) for a comparison of participants with very low food security with those who were food secure, after adjustment for age, smoking, education, poverty status, income, acculturation, plasma homocysteine, alcohol, diabetes, and hypertension. Food insecurity was significantly associated with lower scores for word-list learning, percentage retention, letter fluency, and digit span backward tests. Conclusions: Very low food security was prevalent among the study subjects and was associated with lower cognitive performance. Further studies, both observational and experimental, are warranted to clarify the direction of causality in this association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1197-1203
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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