The number of fast-food restaurants near people’s homes increases their risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to researchers from Utrecht University and the Julius Center of University Medical Center Utrecht in the medical journal European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. Reducing the number of fast-food outlets can help local residents eat healthier.
Fast food is high in salt, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and calories, which is why it is associated with cardiovascular diseases. The number of fast-food restaurants has risen considerably in recent decades, and with it people’s access to these unhealthy foods.
Over two million adults
From the Global Geo Health Data Centre, Dr Maartje Poelman, health scientist at Utrecht University, researched the access to fast-food outlets of over two million adults. Criteria for inclusion were that each test subject had to have been living at the same address for at least fifteen years and had no cardiovascular diseases before the start of the study. Poelman and colleagues counted the fast-food outlets within a radius of 0.5, 1 and 3 kilometres of participants’ homes and investigated who developed cardiovascular diseases.
The results showed that cardiovascular diseases, especially coronary heart disease, are more prevalent among people who live in urban areas and have one or several fast-food restaurants within a radius of 500 metres from their homes. Coronary heart disease was also seen more frequently among residents who live up to 1 km from two or more fast-food outlets. This connection was less pronounced for the 3-km boundary as well as for rural areas and the incidence of stroke and heart failure.
Impact on nutritional choices
‘We know from previous research that the food supply influences people’s nutritional choices’, says Poelman. ‘The results of our study suggest that urbanites with easier access to fast-food venues near their homes possibly consume fast food more often, thus increasing their risk of coronary heart disease. We will be investigating this premise in follow-up research.’
According to the researchers, policymakers should take account of ‘fast-food density’ and its potential effects on public health – especially given the fact that the number of fast-food restaurants keeps increasing. European guidelines to prevent cardiovascular diseases also recommend regulating the location and density of fast-food restaurants as a preventive measure.
Encourage a healthy diet
Poelman: ‘Public health policymakers are already considering regulation of the food supply in specific areas. For example, the mayor of London has proposed outlawing new fast-food chains in the vicinity of schools. To prevent cardiovascular diseases we must create a healthier nutritional environment. One step in this process is to regulate the number of fast-food restaurants. At the same time we must stimulate healthy eating habits, for instance by increasing the availability of healthy foods and by making the healthy choice the standard choice.’