The aim of this study was to examine the extent to which an exposure to disaster is associated with change in health behaviors.
Federal disaster declarations were matched at the county-level to self-reported behaviors for participants in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), 2000-2014. Multivariable logistic regression was used to evaluate the relationship between disaster and change in physical activity, body mass index (BMI), and cigarette smoking.
The sample included 20,671 individuals and 59,450 interviews; 1,451 unique disasters were declared in counties in which HRS respondents lived during the study period. Exposure to disaster was significantly associated with weight gain (unadjusted RRR=1.19; 95% CI, 1.11-1.27; adjusted RRR=1.21; 95% CI, 1.13-1.30). Vigorous physical activity was significantly lower among those who had experienced a disaster compared to those who had not (unadjusted OR=0.89; 95% CI, 0.84-0.95; adjusted OR=0.84; 95% CI, 0.79-0.89). No significant difference in cigarette smoking was found.
This study found an increase in weight gain and decrease in physical activity among older adults after disaster exposure. Adverse health behaviors such as these can contribute to functional decline among older adults.