Living near bars, fast food restaurants can be costly for your heart

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Living less than a mile from bars and fast food eateries increases heart failure risk
  • People living near these businesses had a 16% increased risk
  • Those without college degrees and living in urban areas were more at risk

DALLAS — When looking for a new place to live, it might be best steer clear of neighborhoods full of bars or fast food restaurants. An eye-opening study reveals that living near these establishments elevates the odds of developing heart failure. The research underscores the potential health hazards associated with alcohol and ready-to-eat meals.

“Most previous research on the relation between nutrition and human health has been focused on food quality, while neglecting the impact of food environment,” says study senior author Dr. Lu Qi, a professor in the epidemiology department at Tulane University, in a media release. “Our study highlights the importance of accounting for food environment in nutrition research.”

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs, a serious condition that can lead to a variety of health problems. The study, leveraging data from the UK Biobank which includes health information from over 500,000 adults in the United Kingdom, aimed to examine the impact of food environments on heart failure risk over a 12-year period. Researchers assessed exposure based on how close participants lived to various food outlets, including pubs, bars, restaurants, cafeterias, and fast food restaurants, and the density of these outlets within a 0.62-mile radius of their homes.

The findings revealed that those living in close proximity to a high density of ready-to-eat food outlets faced a 16-percent higher risk of heart failure compared to individuals with no such outlets near their homes. Specifically, proximity to pubs and bars was associated with a 14-percent increased risk, while living near fast food outlets was linked to a 12-percent higher risk of heart failure. The risks were more pronounced among individuals without a college degree and those residing in urban areas without access to exercise facilities.

signs in downtown Nashville
A closer proximity to pubs and bars was associated with a 14-percent increased risk of heart failure. (Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash)

The study’s results align with previous research indicating that exposure to fast food environments correlates with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, conditions that can elevate heart failure risk. Researchers argue for the need to improve access to healthier food options and physical fitness facilities, particularly in urban areas, to mitigate heart failure risk. They also highlight the importance of considering food environments in nutritional research, suggesting that such environments significantly influence dietary habits and, by extension, heart health.

An editorial accompanying the study, penned by Drs. Elissa Driggin and Ersilia M. DeFilippis, from Columbia University Medical Center, called for further research in more diverse communities.

“Given the clear association between Black race and high incidence of heart failure as compared to White patients, as well as associations with worse heart failure outcomes, attention to food environment in this high-risk population is of the utmost importance,” the doctors write.

The American Heart Association’s Health Care by Food TM initiative aims to tackle these issues by advocating for policies and interventions that promote healthy eating.

“Consuming a healthy diet is too hard for too many people,” notes Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention. “Structural racism and factors that contribute to poverty mean that historically excluded people suffer the consequences of poor-quality diets at disproportionate levels.”

This study’s insights into the link between food environments and heart failure risk underscore the complex interplay between where we live, what we eat, and how our hearts function. While the research provides a crucial foundation for understanding these relationships, researchers call for further studies to explore the nuances of nutrition insecurity and its impact on heart health, underscoring the need for comprehensive strategies to combat heart failure at the community level.

The study is published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

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