Snacking may improve physical function among older Americans



Snacking was reported to provide nutritional benefits among older adults, but the association between such dietary behavior and health outcomes has not been clearly established. The purpose of this study is to examine the associations between snacking and gait speed, a performance-based measure of physical function.


Cross-sectional population-based survey.


The 1999–2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).


A nationally representative sample of Americans aged 60 and older n = 2,333).


Participants were classified by snacking frequency (0, 1, 2, 3, ≥4 snacks/d) and by the contribution of snacking to their daily energy intake (0 to <10%, 10% to <20%, 20% to <30%, ≥30%). Physical function was assessed by measurement of gait speed over 20 feet.


After adjusting for age, gender, education, race/ethnicity, smoking status, and marital status, older adults who snacked four times or more daily had a faster gait speed (P = 0.033) than non-snackers. Snacking that contributed 20% to <30% (P = 0.017) of energy was associated with a faster gait speed than snacking that contributed 0 to <10% of energy. Similar associations were observed after further adjustment for potential confounders.


Both snacking frequency and percentage of energy from snacking are positively associated with gait speed among older adults. The benefits of snacking on older adults’ physical function may warrant their inclusion in this population’s diet.

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Correspondence to Beibei Xu.

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Xu, B., Yu, G.P., Zizza, C.A. et al. Snacking may improve physical function among older Americans. J Nutr Health Aging 17, 393–397 (2013).

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Key words

  • Dietary behavior
  • gait speed
  • older adults