Risk of heart disease in urban 'food deserts' is associated with individual's income rather than access to healthy food

September 13, 2017, American Heart Association
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The risk for developing cardiovascular disease is higher in individuals living in low income neighborhoods or with lower personal income regardless of their access to healthy food, according to new research published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

The study, conducted by Emory University School of Medicine, focused on the effects of , education and socioeconomic status on healthy people living in urban deserts in the Atlanta metropolitan area. A food is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a location with both low access to healthy food and low income. Areas with low access to healthy foods are defined as areas where a significant share of people live a mile or more away in urban areas or 10 miles or more away in rural areas from a supermarket, supercenter or large grocery store. The USDA estimates 23.5 million people live in food deserts across the United States.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,421 subjects who were recruited into two health studies: 712 from the META-Health (Morehouse and Emory Team up to Eliminate Health Disparities) study and 709 from the Predictive Health study, which recruited university employees from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Participants were 20 to 70 years old with an average age of 49.4 years, 38.5 percent were male and 36.6 percent were Black.

The researchers studied demographic data, metabolic profiles and early signs of cardiovascular disease, including markers for inflammation and stiffness of the arteries, an early indicator of blood vessel disease. The researchers found that people living in food deserts (13.2 percent) had higher rates of smoking, a higher prevalence of high blood pressure and higher body mass index as well as increased arterial stiffness compared to those not living in food deserts.

The researchers then analyzed these risk factors with respect to the average neighborhood income and individual income. People living in food deserts in low income areas had no significant difference in the studied markers for heart disease compared to people living in areas with low income and good food access. People with high individual income who lived in low income areas had lower cardiovascular risk and inflammation compared to people with lower individual income who lived in a similar area. Moreover, people with high individual income who lived in an area with poor food access had a better cardiovascular profile than those with lower individual income who lived in similar area.

Overall, appeared to be the most important driver of .

According to the researchers, one of the study's limitations is that it only measured risk factors and early . These factors increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. In order to confirm that low income contributes to early heart disease or higher mortality from heart disease, a study with a larger number of participants with much longer follow-up needs to be conducted.

"At least in the urban environment, the definition of a food desert wasn't sufficient to explain poor health in terms of cardiovascular risk factors," said senior author Arshed A. Quyyumi, M.D., FACC, FRCP, a professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and co-director of the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute. "This study shows that low personal income and low socioeconomic status matter when it comes to risk. Physicians need to be aware that these social determinants increase risk and that perhaps more attention needs to be paid to patients who fall into this category."

Explore further: Childhood socioeconomic status associated with arterial stiffness in adulthood

More information: Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes (2017). DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.116.003532

Co-authors are Heval M. Kelli, M.D.; Muhammad Hammadah, M.D.; Hina Ahmed, MPH; Yi-An Ko, Ph.D.; Matthew Topel, M.D., M.Sc.; Ayman Samman-Tahhan, M.D.; Mossab Awad, M.D.; Keyur Patel, M.D.; Kareem Mohammed, M.D.; Laurence S. Sperling, M.D.; Priscilla Pemu, M.D.; Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D.; Tene Lewis, Ph.D.; Herman Taylor, M.D., MPH; Greg Martin, M.D., M.Sc.; and Gary H. Gibbons, M.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

Related Stories

Childhood socioeconomic status associated with arterial stiffness in adulthood

September 6, 2017
A multicentre trial coordinated by the Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Turku, Finland, shows that lower socioeconomic status in childhood is associated with arterial ...

Improvements in control of cardiovascular risk factors not seen at all socioeconomic levels in US

June 7, 2017
Between 1999 to 2014, there was a decline in average systolic blood pressure, smoking, and predicted cardiovascular risk of 20 percent or greater among high-income U.S. adults, but these levels remained unchanged in adults ...

Better health care as important as controlling risk factors for heart health

August 27, 2014
Keeping a healthy heart may have as much to do with the quality of health care you have available as it does you avoiding risk factors such as smoking, bad diet and little exercise.

Lack of transportation limits healthy food access among Washington State residents

February 8, 2017
Having convenient or reasonable access to supermarkets is often associated with healthier diets and a lower risk for obesity among neighborhood residents. However, simply improving residents' proximity to grocery stores may ...

Low socioeconomic status associated with higher risk of second heart attack or stroke

August 27, 2016
Low socioeconomic status is associated with a higher risk of a second heart attack or stroke, according to research presented at ESC Congress 2016 today. The study in nearly 30 000 patients with a prior heart attack found ...

Risk factors for cardiovascular problems found to be inverse to disease and deaths

September 2, 2013
Despite living with the highest risk factors for heart disease, people in high income countries suffer less from serious cardiovascular disease, says an international study by the global PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology ...

Recommended for you

Eating yogurt may reduce cardiovascular disease risk

February 15, 2018
A new study in the American Journal of Hypertension, published by Oxford University Press, suggests that higher yogurt intake is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk among hypertensive men and women.

Newly discovered gene may protect against heart disease

February 14, 2018
Scientists have identified a gene that may play a protective role in preventing heart disease. Their research revealed that the gene, called MeXis, acts within key cells inside clogged arteries to help remove excess cholesterol ...

Blood thinners may raise stroke risk in over-65s with kidney disease

February 14, 2018
People over 65 years old may be increasing their stroke risk by taking anticoagulants for an irregular heartbeat if they also have chronic kidney disease, finds a new study led by UCL, St George's, University of London and ...

Cardiac macrophages found to contribute to a currently untreatable type of heart failure

February 14, 2018
A team of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has discovered, for the first time, that the immune cells called macrophages contribute to a type of heart failure for which there currently is no effective treatment. ...

Study maps molecular mechanisms crucial for new approach to heart disease therapy

February 13, 2018
Creating new healthy heart muscle cells within a patient's own ailing heart. This is how scientists hope to reverse heart disease one day. Today, a new study led by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers reveals key molecular details ...

Quality toolkit improves care in Indian hospitals

February 13, 2018
A simple toolkit of checklists, education materials and quality and performance reporting improved the quality of care but not outcomes in hospitals in the south Indian state of Kerala and may have the potential to improve ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.