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Food insecurity raises risk of cardiovascular death

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A new study from the American Heart Association shows the link between food insecurity and cardiovascular deaths. The study, conducted by Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found for every 1% increase in food insecurity, there was a similar increase in cardiovascular deaths among individuals younger than 65.

This is particularly concerning for Indianapolis, where roughly 23% of residents live in a food desert, according to the POLIS Center at IUPUI. Food deserts are defined as a low-income neighborhood more than a mile away from a grocery store. Nationwide, about 10% of Americans live in a food desert. 

“Our study is one of the first national analyses to look at changes in both food insecurity and cardiovascular mortality over time, and to see if changes in food insecurity impact cardiovascular health,” Sameed Khatana, co-author of the study, said in a press release. “This research shows food insecurity, which is a particular type of economic distress, is associated with cardiovascular disease.”

The study removed certain variables known to affect cardiovascular risk, including employment, health insurance and poverty, to look specifically at food insecurity’s impact on heart health. 

In Marion County, Black residents are more likely to live in a food desert than any other racial demographic. Along with food insecurity, morbidities such as diabetes and high blood pressure and health care disparities, put Black Hoosiers at a higher risk of a cardiovascular emergency than whites. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are 60% more likely than whites to have diabetes and 40% more likely than whites likely to have high blood pressure.

Dr. Jerry Smartt, a neurologist and board member of the American Heart Association, expects those disparities to widen in the wake of COVID-19. 

“We know, looking at the social determinants of health; economic stability, access to health care, and education, that poverty and environment plays a huge part in overall health,” Smartt said. “With COVID, those health disparities have become more evident, and more African Americans and people of color are affected by it … so it wouldn’t be surprising to see an increase in negative health consequences.”

However, Smartt said this study provides local leaders and policymakers an opportunity to make changes benefitting those currently living in a food desert. The American Heart Association, for example, is creating more community gardens and is urging politicians to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for use at farmer’s markets and to create safer sidewalks so residents can walk to grocery stores.

This study will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020 meeting. The virtual conference will be held Nov. 13 through Nov. 17.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. 

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