Unhealthy diets, especially in poorer neighbourhoods, have been linked to a limited choice of fresh foods, numerous ready foods and many fast-food restaurants.
Residents in these areas are more likely to experience early atherosclerosis: a disease that blocks blood vessels with fatty materials called plaques.
Atherosclerosis doesn’t tend to have any symptoms initially but it leads to conditions such as peripheral vascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.
New research enrolled 5950 adults in a study with a 12 year follow-up period to find out whether social and physical factors are responsible for atherosclerosis in poor communities.
Dr Jeffrey Wing, the lead author of this study, said:
“The lack of healthy food stores may help explain why people in these neighborhoods have more heart disease.
The thought is that greater access to healthier foods may have promoted healthier diets and, in turn, less coronary plaque formation.”
The research team examined how limited healthy food shops, recreational centres, social environments and neighbourhood walkability can contribute to atherosclerosis.
They used a coronary calcium (CT) scan to measure calcium levels in the walls of the arteries in the heart.
The analysis revealed that the common thread in more rapid developing coronary atherosclerosis was related to decreased access to healthy food stores.
Dr Ella August, one of the study’s author explained:
“We found that healthy food stores within one mile of their home was the only significant factor that reduced or slowed the progression of calcium buildup in coronary arteries.
Our results point to a need for greater awareness of the potential health threat posed by the scarcity of healthy grocery options in certain neighborhoods.”
A heart healthy diet recommend by the American Heart Association includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, nuts, beans, whole grains, skinless poultry and fish.
The Association also encourages a diet limited in sugars and red meats, saturated fats and sodium.
The study was published in Circulation (Wing et al., 2016).
Fresh foods image from Shutterstock