Living near a ‘food swamp’ could raise stroke risk in adults 50 and older: research

Adults ages 50 and older who live near fast food-dense environments may be at heightened risk of stroke, preliminary research has determined.

So-called “food swamps” typically contain an abundance of fast-food chains and convenience stores — essentially “swamping” neighborhoods with unhealthy eating options, the authors explained.

Meanwhile, food swamps also often overlap with food deserts, where insufficient grocery stores complicate the quest to find fresh produce, they added.

“An unhealthy diet negatively impacts blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels that increases the risk of stroke,” lead author Dixon Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said in a statement.

“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,” Yang added.

To determine the connection between food swamp density and stroke risk, the researchers performed a secondary analysis of data collected from 2010 to 2016 on 17,875 adults.

The initial data came from the University of Michigan’s ongoing Health and Retirement Study, which recruits participants across the US to explore the challenges and opportunities associated with aging.

The researchers then cross-referenced this information with food environment details from the US Department of Agriculture, to create a so-called “retail food environment index.”

The index, they explained, indicates the ratio of unhealthy food options to the number of healthy choices in each neighborhood.

Unhealthy food options included convenience stores, fast-food and full-service restaurants, while healthy food retailers included grocery stores, farmer’s markets and specialized food stores, according to the report.

The areas with more unhealthy choices generally had a ratio of higher than five, while those with healthier options had a ratio of five or lower.

“Prior research has shown that a retail food environment index ratio of five or higher may predict the prevalence of people with obesity in a neighborhood,” Yang said.

Yang and his colleagues then weighted the 17,875 adults to be representative of a much larger US population of more than 84 million community-dwelling adults.

More than 3 million people — or 3.8 percent of those studied — self-reported having experienced a stroke, the scientists found.

About 28 percent of those surveyed lived in areas with a retail food environment index below five — the areas with healthier options.

The remaining 72 percent lived in regions ranked five or higher on the index, according to the research.

Those who lived in the neighborhoods with less healthy options had 13 percent greater odds of stroke in comparison to residents of areas that ranked below five, the authors found.

The scientists acknowledged several limits in their research, including the single time period evaluated and the fact that stroke events were self-reported.

In addition, the research is still in preliminary stages — to be presented at next week’s American Stroke Association conference — and has yet to be peer reviewed.

“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,” Yang said.

“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,” he added.



4 Heart-Healthy Habits To Follow For A Longer Life, According To Doctors

Wanting to live a healthy, long life is one thing—but figuring out exactly how to do that and making the necessary changes is another story. There are so many factors that play into your health, but one of the most important aspects of wellness to consider as you age is your cardiovascular health. When your heart is healthy, your whole body (and even your brain!) benefits. For this reason, practicing heart-healthy habits is one of the best things you can do to live your longest life.

To discover some of the most impactful changes you can make in order to help your heart thrive, we spoke to David Seitz, MD, Medical Director of Ascendant Detox. He told us that eating a healthy diet, exercising, limiting your alcohol consumption, and managing stress are all essential.

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#1. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet is essential to every part of your overall wellness, and your heart health is no different. In fact, Dr. Seitz says maintaining a balanced, nourishing diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart. “This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and limiting processed foods, saturated fats, and sugar,” he explains. “Eating a healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and it can also help you manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.” Noted!

READ MORE: These Are The Best Snacks To Boost Heart Health This Fall, Experts Say

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#2. Get regular exercise

Another extremely important aspect to consider when it comes to cardiovascular health is exercise. Finding a way to get up and move every day is crucial if you want to live your longest life and maintain a healthy heart. “Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day can help reduce your risk of heart disease, and it can also help you manage your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels,” Seitz says. Even just taking a quick walk after dinner can do wonders for your heart—and your overall health.

READ MORE: Personal Trainers Say These Are The Exercises You Should Do Every Day For A Stronger Heart Over 50

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#3 Limit alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a range of health issues, and that includes problems with your heart. That’s not to say you have to stop drinking altogether, but it’s always best to practice moderation. As Dr. Seitz notes, “drinking alcohol in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but drinking too much alcohol can lead to problems. Too much alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.” Yikes! For this reason, it’s best to limit your intake and be careful not to go overboard when drinking if you want to lead a long, healthy life.

READ MORE: These Are The Best Snacks To Boost Heart Health This Fall, Experts Say

woman looking stressed out with hands on face


#4. Manage stress

Chronic stress can affect more than just your mental and emotional health. As it turns out, Dr. Seitz says that the issue can can take a serious toll on your heart health over time. For this reason, he tells us that managing stress is a vital part of maintaining a healthy heart and living a long life. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do this, and you’re sure to find a method that works well for you. “Exercise, meditation, and spending time with friends and family can all help reduce stress levels,” Dr. Seitz says. If you incorporate these healthy habits into your daily routine, you’ll be well on your way to a happier, more carefree life—and, in turn, a healthier heart.

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