Background Social connectedness has been shown to influence mortality to the same extent as other well-established risk factors such as smoking. Structural aspects of social connectedness include martial, cohabitation and employment status which are the focus of the present study. Dietary behaviour is a possible pathway through which social relationships exert their influence on health outcomes. Among those above 65 years, research has indicated that living alone and being socially isolated is a risk factor for poor diet variety. The association between retirement and diet quality is not well established, and at 60–64 years, the present study group represent an interesting time of transition in the life course. Moreover, evidence suggests social influences on dietary behaviour are sex-specific. This study aims to examine the association of structural aspects of social networks and diet quality in the 60–64 years age group.
Methods Participants came from the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD). The cohort has been followed up 24 times from birth, including a follow-up in 2006–10 at ages 60–64 years when 1,869 participants completed 5-day prospective estimated diet diaries. Diet quality was assessed according to adherence of a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-type diet score ranging from 0–40. Participants were asked, via questionnaire, to report their current marital status, the number of people living in their household and their current employment status.
Linear regression models were used to determine if marital status, the number of people living in the participant’s household and employment status were associated with adherence to a DASH-type diet. Models were also stratified by sex. Symptoms of depression, socioeconomic position and physical disability were adjusted for.
Results No associations were found between marital status or number of household occupants and DASH scores. Being fully retired compared to still being in main occupation was associated with a 0.73 (95% CI: 0.16 to 1.30) increase in DASH points when adjusting for sex, socioeconomic position, symptoms of depressions and physical disability. When stratifying for sex, an increase in DASH points of 0.84 (95% CI: 0.041 to 1.63) was seen in females but not males fully retired.
Conclusion Results so far from this study suggest that being retired at 60–64 years, compared to still being in main employment, may be associated with improved diet quality, especially in females.
Next analyses will consider other social health exposures, including functional aspects of social relationships, and other indices of dietary intake.
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