For the current study, observations were drawn from the Health Care and Nutrition Study (HCNS), an off-year supplement of the HRS. The dependent variable of this study, daily fruit and vegetable consumption, was measured using (1) daily serving and (2) daily recommendation (2 or more servings for fruits; 3 or more servings for vegetables). For the independent variable, a new variable was created using information on living arrangements and having children and friends nearby: 0 (living with someone, have children or friends nearby), 1 (living with someone, have no children or friends nearby), 2 (living alone, have children or friends nearby), and 3 (living alone, have no children or friends nearby). A series of multivariate analyses were conducted using Stata 15. First, in Model 1, we tested the association of living alone and having children and friends nearby with daily fruit and vegetable consumption (i.e., daily serving per day, meeting daily recommendation). Then, Model 2 tested the association by gender as previous studies have reported gender differences in nutrition and healthy eating behaviors. Daily serving portion of fruits and vegetables are count variable and daily recommendation for fruits and vegetable consumption are binary variable; thus, Poisson regression and logistic regression models were estimated. For the analyses, we applied sample weights provided by the HRS to account for differential selection probabilities due to the complex survey design. The analytic sample included 6,915 respondents.
Older adults who were living alone and had no children or friends nearby had lower fruit and vegetable consumption and less likely to meet daily recommendation for fruits and vegetables, compared to those who were living with someone and had children or friends nearby. Fruit and vegetable consumption of older adults who were either living with someone or had children or friends nearby was not statistically different from those who were living with someone and had children or friends nearby. When the models were estimated separated by gender, the effect of living alone and having children and friends nearby was greater for older females.
Based on the findings, older adults who are living alone and do not have children or friends nearby may be at the risk of poor nutrition due to low levels of social support. Provision of help with grocery shopping (e.g., transportation, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and meal preparation (e.g., home-delivered meals) as well as more social opportunities that can improve social support network and encourage healthy eating (e.g., congregate meals) may increase daily fruit and vegetable consumption of older adults. Special attention should be given to older females were are living alone and have no children or friends nearby.