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May 15, 2018

Living Near Fast Food is Associated with Greater Risk for Heart Disease

Dutch study links easy access to fast food and increased risk for heart disease.

Living near fast food restaurants could spell trouble for heart health, based on a Dutch study that found that adults living within a half-mile of fast food outlets were more likely to develop heart disease than those living further away.

Published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, this study looked at the potential public health impact of fast food restaurants in the Netherlands.

It’s estimated that the number of McDonalds outlets increased by 20% globally in the past decade. Experts worry about the impact of increased fast food consumption on heart health.

To learn more, researchers used three Dutch registries to track the health of nearly 2.5 million adults for one year. During the study, researchers tracked key health outcomes among participants including heart disease, stroke and heart failure. They then used home addresses to estimate how close participants lived from the nearest fast food restaurant during that period.

Participants were at least 35 years old and free of heart disease at the start of the study. They also lived at the same address for a minimum of 15 years to help assess the long-term impact of their location in relation to fast food.

In total, 2.5% of participants were diagnosed with heart disease, stroke or heart failure during the one-year study. After analysis, researchers found that individuals living within roughly a half-mile from a fast food restaurant were significantly more likely to develop heart disease than those living further away.

This association existed even after accounting for factors like age, race and income, all of which influence cardiovascular risk.

According to authors, findings should serve as a warning about the public health dangers of the fast food trend.

Fast food is notorious for being unhealthy, largely due to the high amounts of fat, salt and calories contained in the processed foods. Over time, consumption of these foods can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These factors are known to increase risk for heart disease – the leading cause of death worldwide.

As a result, authors hope that findings reinforce the importance of maintaining a heart-healthy diet. That means choosing wholesome foods like fruits and vegetables and limiting consumption of calorie-packed processed foods, which fast food restaurants tend to offer.

Findings also are a reminder about the close link between the environment in which we live and our health. In many ways, we are products of our environment. Making it easier to make healthy lifestyle choices could go a long way in improving public health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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