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Super-Sized Stroke Risk

February 24, 2009

The risk of stroke increases by 1 percent for each fast-food restaurant in a neighborhood, according to a new study.

However, researchers said the discovery of an increased risk only demonstrates an association; it does not prove that fast-food restaurants raise stroke risk.

“What we don’t know is whether fast food actually increased the risk because of its contents or whether fast-food restaurants are a marker of unhealthy neighborhoods,” the study’s lead author, Lewis B. Morgenstern, M.D., the director of the University of Michigan’s stroke program and professor of neurology and epidemiology in Ann Arbor was quoted as saying.

After statistically controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors, researchers also discovered residents of neighborhoods with the highest number of fast-food restaurants had a 13 percent higher relative risk of suffering ischemic strokes than those living in areas with the lowest numbers of restaurants.

Nearly 780,000 people have a new or recurrent stroke every year. Of all strokes, 87 percent are ischemic, which result from a blocked artery in the brain or an artery feeding blood to the brain, researchers said.

Previous studies have already suggested a link between fast food and cardiovascular disease, which led some restaurants to begin including more nutritious options on their menus.

Morgenstern said this study needs to be confirmed by larger studies since this particular one only focused on data collected in Nueces County, Texas, as part of the ongoing Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi (BASIC) project. The BASIC project has been underway since Jan. 1, 2000, and this report examined 1,247 ischemic strokes that occurred from the study’s start through June 2003.

“We need to start unraveling why these particular communities have higher stroke risks. Is it direct consumption of fast food? Is it the lack of more healthy options? Is there something completely different in these neighborhoods that is associated with poor health,” Morgenstern said.

SOURCE: Study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2009

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