Food insecurity and brain health in adults: A systematic review

Alan J. McMichael, Bernadette McGuinness, Jinkook Lee, Hoang Van Minh, Jayne Woodside, Claire McEvoy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Food insecurity has been associated with adverse effects on physical health and well-being in both high and low-income countries, but effects on brain health are not clear. The purpose of this systematic review was to determine the relationship between food insecurity and important brain health outcomes in adults including depression, stroke, cognitive impairment and dementia. Electronic databases were searched to find studies which investigated relations between food insecurity and predefined brain health outcomes. Thirty studies met the inclusion criteria for review of which 23 were conducted in high income countries and seven in low- or middle-income countries. Most studies (n = 24) were cross-sectional, five were prospective and 1 was a case-control design. Seven studies reporting outcomes relating to cognitive performance and 24 relating to depression. No studies investigated relations between food insecurity and stroke or dementia. There was substantial heterogeneity in the populations studied as well as measures of food insecurity and outcomes which made comparisons between studies difficult. Overall, the findings highlighted that individuals who were food insecure had increased likelihood of depressive symptoms and poorer global cognition than those who were food secure. It is possible that social support and food aid programmes attenuate the effects of food insecurity on depressive symptoms. Future research is needed to determine whether interventions to alleviate food insecurity can benefit brain health in vulnerable populations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
Early online date28 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2021


  • Brain health
  • cognition
  • depression
  • food insecurity


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