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Living close to bars and pubs increases the risk of heart failure

A study led by Tulane University has found that residing near pubs, bars, and fast-food restaurants could increase the risk of heart failure. According to the researchers, this type of food environment, often laden with unhealthy options, is associated with cardiovascular diseases.

Pioneering study

Heart failure, a condition where the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs, has not been extensively studied in relation to the food environment. 

Thus, the study is a pioneering one in examining the long-term observation of the association between food environment and heart failure.

Impact of the food environment 

“Most previous research on the relation between nutrition and human health has been focused on food quality, while neglecting the impact of food environment,” said senior author Lu Qi, a professor of epidemiology at Tulane. “Our study highlights the importance of accounting for food environment in nutrition research.” 

Focus of the study

The researchers utilized data from the UK Biobank, analyzing over 500,000 adults in the UK, to investigate the proximity and density of pubs or bars, restaurants or cafeterias, and fast-food restaurants near participants’ homes and its correlation with heart failure. 

Throughout a 12-year follow-up, nearly 13,000 heart failure cases were identified, showcasing a link between the density and proximity of ready-to-eat food outlets and an increased risk of heart failure.

High-density areas of pubs and bars

The results indicated that those living in areas with the highest density of ready-to-eat food outlets had a 16% greater risk of heart failure compared to those in areas without such outlets. 

Specifically, high-density areas of pubs and bars were associated with a 14% higher risk, and areas with a high density of fast-food outlets had a 12% higher risk. Proximity to these outlets also mattered, with those living closest to pubs and bars or fast-food outlets facing a 13% and 10% higher risk, respectively.

Mitigating the risk of heart failure 

According to Qi, the findings were in line with expectations “because previous studies have suggested that exposure to ready-to-eat food environments is associated with risks of other disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which may also increase the risk of heart failure.”

The study suggests that improving access to healthier food and physical fitness facilities, particularly in urban areas, and promoting higher education levels could mitigate the increased heart failure risk associated with quick-meal options.

Further research is needed 

An accompanying editorial by Dr. Elissa Driggin and Dr. Ersilia M. DeFilippis from Columbia University Medical Center calls for more detailed analyses in diverse racial and ethnic communities, noting the particular importance of focusing on food environments in high-risk populations, including those with a high incidence of heart failure.

“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,” they wrote.

“It has already been demonstrated that compared to predominantly white neighborhoods, there are significantly fewer supermarkets in predominantly Black neighborhoods, which are likely to be inversely associated with ready-to-eat food environments.”

Broader initiative

The American Heart Association’s efforts to enhance access to healthy food and the significance of considering food as medicine in treating chronic health conditions are part of a broader initiative to address the challenges of eating healthier, including the impact of structural racism and poverty on diet quality.

The study – published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure – highlights the role of the food environment in heart failure risk. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings and better understand the implications of nutrition insecurity.

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