Barriers to eating are associated with poor physical function in older women

Marian L. Neuhouser*, Rebecca P. Hunt, Linda Van Horn, James M. Shikany, Marcia L. Stefanick, Karen C. Johnson, Robert Brunner, Brad Cannell, Irene E. Hatsu, Lesley F. Tinker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Older adults have physical and social barriers to eating but whether this affects functional status is unknown. We examined associations between eating barriers and physical function in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). In 2012–14, a subset of alive and participating women (n = 5910) completed an in-home examination including the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) (grip strength, balance, timed walking speed, chair stand). WHI participants complete annual mailed questionnaires; the 2013–14 questionnaire included items on eating alone, eating < two meals/day, dentition problems affecting eating, physical difficulties with cooking/shopping and monetary resources for food. Linear regression tested associations of these eating barriers with SPPB, adjusting for BMI, age, race/ethnicity, and medical multimorbidities. Over half (56.8%) of participants were ≥ 75 years, 98.8% had a BMI ≥ 25.0 kg/m2 and 66% had multimorbidities. Eating barriers, excluding eating alone, were associated with significantly lower total (all p <.001) and component-specific, multivariate-adjusted SPPB scores (all p <.05). Compared to no barriers, eating < two meals/day (7.83 vs. 8.38, p <.0002), dentition problems (7.69 vs. 8.38, p <.0001), inability to shop/prepare meals (7.74 vs. 8.38, p <.0001) and insufficient resources (7.84 vs. 8.37 p <.001) were significantly associated with multivariate-adjusted mean SPPB score < 8. Models additionally adjusting for Healthy Eating Index-2010 had little influence on scores. As barriers increased, scores declined further for grip strength (16.10 kg for 4–5 barriers, p =.001), timed walk (0.58 m/s for 4–5 barriers, p =.001) and total SPPB (7.27 for 4–5 barriers, p <.0001). In conclusion, in this WHI subset, eating barriers were associated with poor SPPB scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106234
JournalPreventive medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Eating
  • Obesity
  • Older adults
  • Physical function
  • Postmenopausal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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