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This Simple Mealtime Habit Might Negatively Affect Older Women's Heart Health

Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy
November 5, 2021

We know that what we eat can have a big impact on heart health, but have you ever considered that how you're eating may affect you? According to a new study published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), there's an association between eating alone and heart health in older women.

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The link between eating alone and health.

The cross-sectional study, which was published this week, used data from the 2016 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to explore the link between the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and eating alone.

Using data from a pool of nearly 600 menopausal participants over age 65, they compared the health behaviors and nutritional status of women who ate alone versus those who ate with others.

The team noted that previous research shows that people tend to eat more quickly when they're alone—and also tend to eat more in some cases. Eating alone may also be linked with a higher risk of abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, poor mental health, and depression—which has, in turn, been linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease independently.

In this study, they found that women who ate alone had generally worse nutrition habits and were more than twice as likely to experience angina, which is a type of chest pain that can be a symptom of coronary artery disease.

"This study shows that older women who eat alone are more likely to have symptomatic heart disease. They are also more likely to be widowed and to have lower incomes and poorer nutritional intake," said Stephanie Faubion, M.D., MBA, the medical director of NAMS, "These results are not surprising given that lower socioeconomic status and social isolation contribute to lower quality of life, greater rates of depression, and poorer health."

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Understanding how loneliness can affect health.

These findings underline yet another way loneliness may affect our health. Previous studies have linked feelings of loneliness to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, and experts say that loneliness may even affect inflammation. A 2019 study confirmed that people who are living alone may be more likely to experience poor mental health, generally.

For some people, eating alone may be only one symptom of a broader experience of isolation as they age. The case for social connection as a crucial element of longevity is strong: In Ogimi, a village on the island of Okinawa, Japan, with the most centenarians per square mile, there's a cultural practice of cultivating connections known as moais.

"Moais involve ritualistic connections that are both reliable and close-knit, which involve a common interest but not usually a common professional identity," doctor and longevity researcher Makoto Suzuki, M.D., Ph.D., previously told mbg. More than just friend groups, moais are supported by institutions that keep their members connected.

Ogimi is just one example of how social structures that prioritize connections across the lifespan can benefit public health and well-being.

The bottom line.

This study highlights how important it is for older adults who are living alone or regularly eating alone to make nutrition a priority—and consider making more mealtime plans with companions for the sake of their health.

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