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Fast food restaurants and stroke -- a link?

February 23, 2009 |  3:08 pm

Our neighborhoods can be good or bad for our health, according to a number of studies that have drawn parallels between the environment and topics such as obesity and alcohol use.

Jks2nknc_3Here's another one: The number of fast food restaurants in a neighborhood may be associated with a higher risk of stroke.

Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor looked at stroke data from the Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi Project and found that between January 2000 and June 2003 there were 1,247 ischemic strokes in Nueces County, Texas (An ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked artery to the brain depriving the brain of blood and oxygen, resulting in tissue damage.). They also found 262 fast food restaurants in the county.

Researchers found that those who lived in areas with the most fast food restaurants had a 13% higher relative risk of stroke than those who lived in areas with the least fast food restaurants, after controlling for demographic and socioeconomic issues.

For every fast food restaurant in a neighborhood, the relative risk of stroke went up 1%.

But researchers aren't saying this proves that fast food restaurants are a direct cause of greater stroke risk. "We need to start unraveling why these particular communities have higher stroke risks," said lead author Lewis Morgenstern, in a news release. "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 is director of the university’s stroke program and a professor of neurology and epidemiology. The study was released at the recent American Stroke Assn.'s International Stroke Conference in San Diego.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Mel Melcon / L.A. Times