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2017 Brain Health and Nutrition Survey

Brain Nutrition


AARP conducted a study to characterize eating habits, the willingness to eat a healthier diet, and barriers to healthy eating among adults age 40 and older. The study sought to understand and explore the relationship between nutrition and healthy eating with brain health and mental well-being. The consumption of foods and beverages thought to be beneficial to brain health was explored along with the fraction of adults who regularly get the proper nutrition.

Key findings include:

  • Adults who eat at least the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables report better brain health and have higher average mental well-being scores. The more servings of fruits and vegetables consumed, the better the brain health and mental well-being scores. 

  • But most adults age 40 and older are not getting the proper nutrition. Virtually no one consumed the recommended number of servings in all five food groups and one-third did not consume the recommended amount in ANY food group.

  • Four in 10 or more adults age 40 and older consumed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-recommended amount of fruits (1.5-2 cups per day) and vegetables (2-3 cups per day) but very few consumed the recommended amount of dairy (3 cups per day), grain foods (5-7 servings per day), or protein (5-6 servings per day). A large majority of adults consumed too few servings in these three food groups.

  • Nearly nine in 10 adults say they would eat a healthy diet if they were aware that it could reduce their risk of cognitive decline, heart disease, or diabetes.

  • More than 60 percent of adults age 40 and older said that they would eat more fish, less red meat, and lower their dairy fat intake if they knew it was good for their brain health.

  • About 40 percent of adults said the barriers to eating a healthy diet were the difficulty and expense. Fewer barriers to healthy eating were noted by adults who eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day.

  • More than half of adults (51%) say they would be more likely to eat a healthier diet if their doctor recommended it but few report that their doctors (10%) are recommending they follow a special eating plan.

Interviews were conducted online among 2,033 adults age 40+ using GFK’s Knowledge Panel from October 25-November 8, 2017.  Additional interviews were conducted among African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian adults age 40+.  The data are weighted to reflect Current Population Survey and American Community Survey benchmarks.  For more information, contact Laura Mehegan at  For media inquiries, contact Greg Phillips at


Suggested Citation:

Mehegan, Laura, Chuck Rainville, and Laura Skufca. 2017 Brain Health and Nutrition Survey. Washington DC: AARP Research, January 2018.

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