What Your Local Restaurants May Say About Your Heart Failure Risk

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Group of young friends eating at a restaurant and drinking beer.
Tom Wang / Shutterstock.com

Whether you’re craving a bite after work or socializing with friends, having a wide selection of nearby eateries serving ready-to-eat food is pretty convenient. But it can actually be a bad sign for your heart health.

Recent research published in Circulation: Heart Failure, a scientific journal from the American Heart Association, found that living where you have access to and a higher number of fast-food restaurants, pubs and bars is associated with a higher risk of heart failure.

Heart failure is when the heart muscle can’t pump enough to supply a sufficient amount of blood and oxygen to the rest of the body.

The condition can be fatal, with heart failure listed as the cause of death on almost 380,000 death certificates (13.4%) in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on more than 478,000 people who initially had no history of heart failure. Their average age was 56.5, and they were typically followed for about 12.2 years.

During that period, there were nearly 13,000 heart failure cases in the group.

People who lived the closest to pubs and bars (defined as less than 0.31 mile away) had a 13% higher risk of heart failure than those who lived the farthest away (more than 1.24 miles). Those closest to fast-food restaurants had a 10% higher risk.

People who lived in areas with the greatest density of pubs and bars (defined as 11 or more such establishments in a 0.62-square-mile area) had a 14% higher risk of heart failure. Those in areas with the greatest density of fast-food restaurants had a 12% higher risk.

People without a college degree and those who lived in urban areas without access to gyms or other physical activity facilities had an even stronger risk of heart failure.

Researchers came to these conclusions by using data from UK Biobank, a database that has health information on more than 500,000 adults in the United Kingdom.

This study is just one of a few that have looked at the connection between heart failure risk and what researchers call food environment. The American Heart Association says it’s likely the first study to assess the connection through long-term observation.

However, a study presented at an American Stroke Association conference in 2023 found a connection between living in a “food swamp” and having a higher chance of stroke, as we reported in “Living Near This Type of Restaurant May Boost Stroke Risk.”

The authors of the recent study note their findings suggest improving food environments, providing physical activity centers in urban areas and giving people better access to higher education may reduce the risk of heart failure.

Participants in this study were primarily white.

In an editorial about the study, Drs. Elissa Driggin and Ersilia M. DeFilippis from Columbia University Medical Center in New York write, “Given the clear association between Black race and high incidence of heart failure as compared to white patients, as well as associations with worse heart failure outcomes, attention to food environment in this high-risk population is of the utmost importance.”

Driggen and DeFilippis go on to explain that predominately white neighborhoods typically have more supermarkets than Black neighborhoods, making the residents of the latter more likely to deal with the health consequences associated with living near places serving ready-to-eat food.

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