More heart attacks occur in areas that have a higher number of fast food restaurants, a new study suggests.
According to the findings, for every additional fast food restaurant in an area, there are four additional heart attacks per 100,000 people each year.
The Australian study included over 3,000 patients admitted to hospital with a heart attack in a specific region of Australia between 2011 and 2013. The researchers knew the patients' postcodes so were able to analyse the fast food environment.
They looked at the link between the density of fast food outlets and incidence of heart attack. For the purpose of the study, fast food outlets were defined as the 10 most popular quick serve food retailers based on a population survey carried out in Australia in 2018.
"Previous studies have shown that the poor nutritional value, high salt and saturated fat in fast food is connected to heart disease, yet the role of greater access to these restaurants has been less clear," said the study's author, Tarunpreet Saluja, of the University of Newcastle in Australia.
He pointed out that the findings were consistent across rural and urban areas and factors that may have influenced the results were taken into account, such as age, obesity, smoking status, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Mr Saluja said that the results "emphasise the importance of the food environment as a potential contributor towards health".
"Ischaemic heart disease, including heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It is known that eating fast foods is linked with a higher likelihood of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks. Despite this, there is rapid growth in the purchase and availability of fast food. This highlights the need to explore the role of food availability in the probability of having a heart attack," he commented.
The results were presented at the recent 67th Annual Meeting of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (CSANZ) in Adelaide. The meeting included joint scientific sessions with the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
According to Prof Jeroen Bax, past president of the ESC, tackling heart disease "requires individual responsibility and actions at population level".
"This study highlights the impact of the food environment on health. In addition to regulating the location and density of fast food outlets, local areas should ensure good access to supermarkets with healthy food," he said.
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