Low Childhood Food Intake Linked to Slower Cognitive Decline in African Americans

US researchers have found older African Americans who report going without food as children may have a slower rate of cognitive decline in later life. The study is published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, studied 6,158 people with an average age of 75, and followed them for up to 16 years. They asked the participants a number of questions about their childhood environment, such as asking them to rate their health and body size compared with other children their own age, and asking how often they went without enough food to eat as a child.

The participants were given a series of tests to assess their thinking and memory skills at the start of the study, and again every three years. The researchers analysed the results for African Americans and white participants separately, to account for each group’s different socioeconomic conditions in the early 1900s, when they were children.

The results showed that among African American participants, those who reported sometimes, often or always going without enough food as a child had a slower rate of cognitive decline in later life. In contrast, for white participants the results showed no link between the amount of food eaten in childhood and the rate of cognitive decline in old age.

Dr Marie Janson, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Cognitive decline in older people can be a warning signal for dementia, and unpicking the factors involved could help understanding into preventing the condition. These surprising findings suggest that diet in early life may affect different groups of people in different ways, but it’s unclear whether other factors may have influenced the results. The information about childhood diets in this study was recorded through a questionnaire decades later, so may not have been reliable. It’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about the causes of cognitive decline from this study, and we don’t recommend restricting children’s food intake.

“The best evidence shows that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause dementia. With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, and a rapidly ageing population, finding ways to prevent the condition is crucial – that means we must invest in research.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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