Social Network and Dietary Intake in Community Dwelling Elderly Women: A Secondary Analysis of theThird National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Phillips, Regina Miecznikoski
Simon-Rusinowitz , Lori
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Over the last three decades, more emphasis has been placed on describing and explaining the specific nature of social interactions and the effects of these interactions on health. The elderly population, defined in this study as those individuals 60 years of age or older, has been of particular interest because of their increased risk for illness and disability with advancing age. Elderly women are considered particularly vulnerable to the effects of illness and disability. Research from a variety of disciplines suggests that the social network (i.e. the structure of individuals with a specific, designated relationship to the individual in need), and its inherent social support, is an important factor for maintaining physical, mental and social health in all older adults (Cohen, Teresi & Holmes, 1986; Kaufman, 1990; Shumaker & Hill, 1991). Dietary intake is an indicator of overall health; understanding factors that affect dietary intake provides clinicians with the opportunity to promote positive health outcomes and a positive quality of life for the older adult. Few studies examine the specific relationship between the social network and dietary intake and nutrition in any population. This study examined the relationship between the social network including household size, frequency of non household contact with family/friends and frequency of organizational contact and dietary intake in community-dwelling older women using the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Dietary intake was measured by total food energy intake, body mass index, total dietary intake of selected vitamins/food components and self reported assessment of food security. Although several significant associations emerged, the study's hypotheses were not supported. For example, frequency of neighbor visits was inversely related to total food energy intake (TFEI) as well as calcium intake. Church attendance was positively associated with TFEI, fiber intake and the odds of having a BMI classified as overweight. This study will heighten the awareness of clinicians, health educators and policy makers to the potential impact of the social network on dietary intake. It emphasizes the need for research that addresses the frequency and quality of the social interactions and more diversity within the sample.