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Beyond intakes of total energy and individual nutrient, eating patterns may influence health, and thereby the risk of adverse outcomes. How different diet measures relate to frailty—a general measure of increased vulnerability to unfavorable health outcomes—and mortality risk, and how this might vary across the life course, is not known. We investigated the associations of five dietary indices (Nutrition Index (NI), the energy-density Dietary Inflammatory Index (E-DII™), Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015), Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS), and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)) with frailty and mortality.


We included 15,249 participants aged ≥ 20 years from the 2007–2012 cohorts of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The NI combined 31 nutrition-related deficits. The E-DII is a literature-derived dietary index associated with inflammation. The HEI-2015 assesses adherence to the Dietary Guidelines of Americans. The MDS represents adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet. DASH combines macronutrients and micronutrients to prevent hypertension. Frailty was evaluated using a 36-item frailty index. Mortality status was ascertained up to December 31, 2015.


Participants’ mean age was 47.2 ± 16.7 years and 51.7% were women. After adjusting for age, sex, race, educational level, marital and employment status, smoking, BMI, and study cohort, higher NI and E-DII scores and lower HEI-2015, MDS, and DASH scores were individually significantly associated with frailty. All dietary scores were significantly associated with 8-year mortality risk after adjusting for basic covariates and frailty: NI (hazard ratio per 0.1 point, 1.15, 95%CI 1.10–1.21), E-DII (per 1 point, 1.05, 1.01–1.08), HEI-2015 (per 10 points, 0.93, 0.89–0.97), MDS (per 1 point, 0.94, 0.90–0.97), and DASH (per 1 point, 0.96, 0.93–0.99). The associations of E-DII, HEI-2015, and MDS scores with 8-year mortality risk persisted after additionally adjusting for NI.


NI, E-DII, HEI-2015, MDS, and DASH scores are associated with frailty and 8-year mortality risk in adults across all ages. Nevertheless, their mechanisms and sensitivity to predict health outcomes may differ. Nutrition scores have the potential to include measures of both consumption and laboratory and physical measures of exposure.

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© The Author(s). 2021 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

APA Citation

Jayanama, K., Theou, O., Godin, J., Cahill, L., Shivappa, N., Hébert, J. R., Wirth, M. D., Park, Y.-M., Fung, T. T., & Rockwood, K. (2021). Relationship between diet quality scores and the risk of frailty and mortality in adults across a wide age spectrum. BMC Medicine, 19(1).