Study: Areas with more fast food restaurants report more heart attacks

ADELAIDE, Australia — It’s no secret that regularly eating fast food probably isn’t the best dietary decision in the world. Now, a new study out of Australia shows a connection between the number of fast food restaurants in a town or city and the number of people who suffer from heart attacks.

The findings, recently presented at the annual Scientific Meeting of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (CSANZ), state that areas containing a higher number of fast food restaurants report higher rates of heart attacks. According to researchers, for each additional fast food restaurant opened in the New South Wales area, there were four more heart attacks reported per 1,000 people annually.

“The findings were consistent across rural and metropolitan areas of New South Wales and after adjusting for age, obesity, high blood lipids, high blood pressure, smoking status, and diabetes. The results emphasize the importance of the food environment as a potential contributor towards health,” explains study author Tarunpreet Saluja in a release by the European Society of Cardiology.

Saluja would go on to say that despite the common knowledge that fast food is unhealthy, both consumption and availability continue to increase on a global scale.

The study consisted of 3,070 patients admitted to Australian hospitals with a heart attack between 2011-2013. Each patient’s home address was on file, so researchers were able to look into the number of fast food chains readily available in each of their neighborhoods. The total number of restaurants in each area was recorded and compared against each other in order to determine the association between fast food restaurant density and heart attack frequency.

“Previous studies have shown that the poor nutritional value, high salt and saturated fat in fast food is connected to heart disease, yet the role of greater access to these restaurants has been less clear,” Saluja says.

Researchers hope that their findings encourage a more spirited debate surrounding the role fast food accessibility plays in the industry’s impact on the health of the general population.

Personal responsibility is, of course, the number one factor in one’s health and diet. That being said, researchers also stressed that policy makers need to be aware of the risks associated with numerous fast food chains in one area.

“This is an important paper that documents the association between fast foods and cardiac events, independent of risk factors. It will be crucial to explore whether this association is independent of the social determinants of disease, as we know that fast food outlets are often more common in disadvantaged areas. Nonetheless, the findings are a reminder that the fundamental drivers of cardiovascular disease burden may be altered by changes in public policy. The fact that the appropriate policy steps have not been taken, despite the cost of cardiovascular disease, remains as much a mystery in Australia as elsewhere in the world,” comments Professor Tom Marwick, Chair of the CSANZ 2019 Scientific Programme Committee.

The study was presented at The 67th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand.