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Where Fast Food Joints Abound, So Do Strokes

Stroke Risk Linked to the Number of Fast Food Restaurants in a Neighborhood
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 19, 2009 -- Stroke risk is linked to the number of fast food restaurants in a given area, a new study suggests.

Researchers zeroed in on a region of Texas, analyzed neighborhoods for the number of fast food restaurants, and found a 13% elevated risk of ischemic stroke in neighborhoods with the highest number of fast food restaurants. Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots.

For every fast food restaurant in a designated neighborhood, the relative stroke risk increased 1%, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2009.

“The data show a true association,” says Lewis B. Morgenstern, MD, director of the University of Michigan’s stroke program and lead author of the study. “What we don’t know is whether fast food actually increased the risk because of its contents or whether fast food restaurants are a marker of unhealthy neighborhoods.”

Neighborhoods with lots of fast food restaurants should be prime targets for stroke prevention programs, he says.

Fast Food Restaurants and Stroke: Examining the Link

The link emerged from data gathered in an ongoing study called BASIC, for Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi.

Researchers have been tracking strokes in Nueces County, Texas, since 2000. For the current analysis, they looked at 1,247 ischemic strokes registered in Nueces from the inception of BASIC through June 2003. They also identified 262 restaurants in the county that met criteria for fast food establishments.

Neighborhoods with the fewest fast food eateries had significantly fewer strokes, the researchers report, even after taking socioeconomic and demographic data into account.

“We need to start unraveling why these particular communities have higher stroke risks,” Morgenstern says. “Is it direct consumption of fast food? Is it the lack of more healthy options? Is there something completely different in these neighborhoods that is associated with poor health?”

The researchers conclude that there is “a significant association between fast food restaurants and stroke risk” but say more study is needed to fully explain the link.

Stroke represents a major health problem for Americans. According to the American Heart Association, about 780,000 people each year suffer a new or a recurrent stroke.

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