20 February 2009

Fast food in your area unhealthy

Living in neighbourhoods packed with fast-food restaurants could increase your risk for stroke by 13%, a new study showed.

Living in neighbourhoods packed with fast-food places could increase your risk for stroke by 13%, compared to residing in places where such restaurants are less plentiful, a new study suggests.

Whether the link proves to be causal is not known, though, said study author Dr Lewis B. Morgenstern, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "The only thing we are certain about is, if you live in a neighbourhood with a high fast-food restaurant concentration, you are at increased risk," Morgenstern said. He presented his study at the International Stroke Conference in San Diego.

Morgenstern's research team gathered data on stroke cases in Nueces County, Texas, finding 1 247 cases of ischemic stroke from January 2000 through June 2003.

The researchers then determined the number of fast-food restaurants in the county - 262 - and zeroed in on 64 US Census Bureau tracts to determine the number of fast-food outlets in each area. They counted only restaurants that had at least two of four characteristics: rapid food service, takeout business, either no or a very limited wait staff and payment made before receiving food. And they ranked the neighbourhoods from most to least number of fast-food outlets.

What the study found
Morgenstern said that it would be difficult to break down how many fast food restaurants per block or per kilometre were in the high-concentration areas. But each census tract included about 5 000 people, and the neighbourhoods in the top 25% had 33 restaurants per tract, while those in the lowest had 12.

Their analysis determined that "there was a 13% increased risk of stroke in the top 25% compared to the lowest 25%," Morgenstern said. The study was funded by the US National Institutes of Health.

"It's interesting, but we don't know if it is causal," said Dr Ralph Sacco, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Stroke Association. But the findings are plausible, said Dr Dean Johnston, a clinical assistant professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia.

"This suggests that diet and lifestyle factors are important for stroke prevention," he said. Fast food has been linked with obesity, and obesity increases stroke risk.

The bottom line for consumers? Anyone moving to a new locale should pay attention to the neighbourhood, Morgenstern said, including the number of stores that sell fresh produce and the number of fast-food restaurants. – (HealthDay News, February 2009)

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