LIVING near burger restaurants and supermarkets increases older people's risk of a deadly stroke, new research has revealed.
Cases of the killer condition rise 13 percent in neighbourhoods with a plethora of junk food outlets, say scientists.
The findings are based on almost 18,000 over 50s across the US tracked for up to seven years.
Lead author Dr Dixon Yang said: "Our research highlights the potential importance of an area's retail food options as a structural factor affecting stroke, especially since most participants resided in areas with six times the amount of relative unhealthy to healthy food choices."
These areas – dubbed 'food swamps' – are where restaurants and shops selling an abundance if high-calorie, low-nutrient meals and snacks line the streets.
Dr Yang, of Columbia University, New York, said: "Despite major advances in stroke care, stroke continues to be a significant problem, and some people will remain at risk despite optimal medical treatment.
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"An unhealthy diet negatively impacts blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels that increases the risk of stroke. – 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," she added.
Eating too many burgers, pizzas, sausage rolls and chips has previously been linked to higher rates of heart disease.
The study presented at an American Stroke Association meeting in Dallas is one of the first to look at the specific link between stroke and consumption of fast food.
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Dr Yang and colleagues analysed data collected between 2010 and 2016 from participants in the ongoing Health and Retirement Study (HRS).
They cross referenced residents health against the 'level' of healthy food shops and fast-food restaurants.
In the UK, almost two in three adults are overweight or obese.
Dr Yang said: "At this early stage of our research, it's important to raise awareness that a person's neighbourhood and food environment are potentially important factors affecting their health, especially among people who may have difficulty in reaching optimal cardiovascular health targets.
"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."
The American Heart Association encourages policies that ensure healthy eating across the lifespan and provide all people with the knowledge and tools to prepare, eat and store nutritious foods.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
The FAST method – which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time – is the easiest way to remember the most common symptoms of stroke:
F = Face drooping – if one side of a person's face is dropped or numb then ask them to smile, if it's uneven then you should seek help.
A = Arm weakness – if one arm is weak or numb then you should ask the person to raise both arms. If one arm drifts downwards then you might need to get help
S = Speech difficulty – if a person's speech is slurred then this could be a sign of a stroke
T = Time to call 999 – if a person has the signs above then you need to call 999 in the UK or 911 in the US for emergency care.
Other symptoms include:
- sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- difficulty finding words
- sudden blurred vision or loss of sight
- sudden confusion, dizziness or unsteadiness
- a sudden and severe headache
- difficulty understanding
Dietary intake, which is affected by food insecurity, is one of the key contributors to cardiovascular disease risk. Low prevalence of ideal diet drives the overall low prevalence of ideal cardiovascular health.
Lifestyle expert Dr Anne Thorndike, of Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the project, said: "In this study of older, community-dwelling, adults in the US, the majority of the people lived in areas with a high-density of unhealthy food options.
"The association between having a stroke and living in an unhealthy food environment highlights the importance of having effective policies and programs that can help to improve access to healthier food options for all Americans."
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