KEY POINTS

  • Previous studies have found evidence of the negative effects of eating alone
  • Researchers say more and more people are eating alone nowadays
  • Older women who ate alone were more at risk of having angina, the study showed

Eating alone may increase the risk for heart disease in older women, a new study has found. It throws the spotlight on another important factor to look out for in heart health.

Having healthy eating habits is important in taking care of one's cardiovascular health, but there are also other factors that may contribute to one's risks. One of these factors is having a companion while eating, the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) noted in a news release.

Previous studies have found various negative impacts of eating alone, the organization noted. For instance, eating alone more frequently has been linked to risks for abdominal obesity and elevated blood pressure. Moreover, people have a tendency to eat faster when they're alone. This practice can lead to increases in waist circumference, blood pressure and body mass index – factors that may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and metabolic syndrome.

However, the importance of having a companion during meals has mostly been overlooked. Changes such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the convenience of food delivery services have meant that more and more people have been eating alone, NAMS noted. And when it comes to CVD risks, women tend to have a higher risk than men because of their decreased estrogen levels.

"Although these findings suggest that eating alone is a risk factor for CVD in older women, few studies have investigated the relationship between eating alone and the prevalence of CVD," NAMS noted.

In a new study, published in Menopause, researchers looked at 590 menopausal women over 65 years old to analyze the difference in nutritional status, health behaviors and the likelihood of the women to have CVD or its risk factors depending on whether they ate alone or with companions.

The team assigned the women who ate more than two meals alone in a day to the eating alone (EA) group, while others who ate more than two meals with companions were assigned to the eating-with-others (EO) group.

The researchers found that those who ate alone had "poorer nutritional knowledge and intake." Compared to those who ate with companions, they had lower energy, carbohydrate, sodium, potassium and dietary fiber intakes. The practice was also "strongly associated" with angina, with those who ate alone being 2.58 times more likely to show the symptom.

"This study shows that older women who eat alone are more likely to have symptomatic heart disease. They are also more likely to be widowed and to have lower incomes and poorer nutritional intake," NAMS Director Dr. Stephanie Faubion said in the news release. "These results are not surprising given that lower socioeconomic status and social isolation contribute to lower quality of life, greater rates of depression and poorer health."

"Thus, it is necessary to consider nutrition education and cardiovascular disease screening for older women who mainly eat alone," the researchers wrote.

Meal/Food Representation. Photo: Pixabay