A preliminary study has found that Americans living near a "food swamp" may be at a higher risk of stroke.
The term "food swamp" was coined to describe communities where fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and junk-food options are more abundant than healthier options like grocery stores and farmers' markets. The study looked at nearly 18,000 adults aged 50 and older and found that those living in U.S. counties with a high food swamp score had a 13% higher risk of stroke than those living in areas with more healthy food options.
Many factors affect stroke risk, and it is difficult to separate the importance of food swamps from other variables, such as lower incomes, little time for exercise, and less access to health care.
The foods typically available in food swamp areas are often heavy in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats and contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are major risk factors for stroke. Unfortunately, processed and prepared foods are also usually cheap and convenient, making them more accessible to busy people who can't get to a grocery store.
The study underscores the importance of social factors in Americans' cardiovascular health. A healthy lifestyle is a struggle for many people, and all the diet advice in the world won't help if people cannot access healthy food.
Therefore, experts suggest a whole-system approach to addressing this issue, which includes better nutrition education and programs and policies that help people afford high-quality food. For example, Americans who qualify for SNAP (food stamps) should be able to access that resource, and food pantries that serve free meals to hungry people should offer healthy options.
The findings of this study highlight the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing food swamp issues, which can be a barrier to people living healthy lives. Making healthy food options accessible to everyone will help ensure everyone has a fair chance at a healthy lifestyle and reduce their risk of stroke and other health problems.