Lack of access to nearby stores selling fresh food may increase residents’ risk of developing signs of early heart disease, according to a new research. Greater access to healthier foods may have promoted healthier diets and, in turn, less coronary plaque formation suggested the study, published in the journal Circulation. “The lack of healthy food stores may help explain why people in these neighborhoods have more heart disease,” said Jeffrey Wing, Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University.
Past studies have found that limited fresh food choices and numerous fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods were linked to unhealthy diets and have a greater likelihood of early atherosclerosis — a disease that hardens arteries and underlies many types of heart disease. In this study conducted upon 5,950 adults, researchers explored how the limited availability of recreational facilities, healthy food stores, neighborhood walkability, and social environments may contribute to the early stages of atherosclerosis.
The participants underwent a CT scan to detect the amount of atherosclerosis in a person’s arteries. Of participants studied, 86 percent had coronary artery calcium readings at three different times, with an average of 3.5 years between measurements. The data suggested that decreased access to heart-healthy food stores is the common thread in a more rapid progression of coronary atherosclerosis in middle-aged and older individuals.
“We found that healthy food stores within one mile of their home were the only significant factor that reduced or slowed the progression of calcium build up 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,” said Ella August, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan.