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Living near burger joints, supermarkets may increase stroke risk in older people

Scientists said cases rise 13 percent in neighborhoods with a plethora of junk food outlets.

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(Photo by Jonathan Borba via Pexels)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Living near burger bars and supermarkets increases older residents' risk of a stroke, according to new research.

Cases rise 13 percent in neighborhoods with a plethora of junk food outlets, say scientists.

The findings are based on almost 18,000 people over 50 across the U.S. tracked for up to seven years.

Lead author Dr. Dixon Yang said: "Our research highlights the potential importance of an area's retail food options as a structural factor affecting stroke, especially since most participants resided in areas with six times the amount of relative unhealthy to healthy food choices."

They have been dubbed 'food swamps' where restaurants and shops selling an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient meals and snacks line the streets.

Dr. Yang, of Columbia University in New York, said: "Despite major advances in stroke care, stroke continues to be a significant problem, and some people will remain at risk despite optimal medical treatment.

"An unhealthy diet negatively impacts blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels that increase the risk of stroke. Independent of one's own demographics or socioeconomic status, living in a neighborhood with an abundance of poor food choices may be an important factor to consider for many people."

Eating too many burgers, pizzas, sausage rolls and chips has previously been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease.

The study presented at an American Stroke Association meeting in Dallas is one of the first to look at the specific link between stroke and the consumption of fast food.

Dr. Yang and colleagues analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2016 from participants in the ongoing Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

They also used federal information to derive a retail food environment index (RFEI) - the ratio of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to healthy options such as grocery stores, farmer's markets and specialized food shops


Two categories - scores above or below 5 - were created as they have previously been shown to be an accurate predictor of obesity.

In the UK, almost two in three adults are overweight or obese.

Dr. Yang said: "At this early stage of our research, it's important to raise awareness that a person's neighborhood and food environment are potentially important factors affecting their health, especially among people who may have difficulty in reaching optimal cardiovascular health targets.

"In the future, it may help to focus on community-based interventions or dietary guidance to improve cardiovascular health, thereby, hopefully reducing the risk of stroke."

More than seven (72%) participants lived in areas with a retail food environment index ranked as 5 or higher. They had 13% higher odds of incident stroke compared to those who lived in neighborhoods with an index score below 5.

The American Heart Association encourages policies that ensure healthy eating across the lifespan and provide all people with the knowledge and tools to prepare, eat and store nutritious foods.

Cardiovascular health can be improved by following simple rules - known as 'Life's Essential 8.'

They include eating healthy food, being physically active, not smoking, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Dietary intake, which is affected by food insecurity, is one of the key contributors to cardiovascular disease risk. Low prevalence of ideal diet drives the overall low prevalence of ideal cardiovascular health.

Lifestyle expert Dr. Anne Thorndike, of Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the project, said: "In this study of older, community-dwelling, adults in the US, the majority of the people lived in areas with a high-density of unhealthy food options.

"The association between having a stroke and living in an unhealthy food environment highlights the importance of having effective policies and programs that can help to improve access to healthier food options for all Americans."

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