Exposure to more ready-to-eat food outlets—particularly pubs, bars, and fast-food restaurants—may be associated with a greater risk of developing heart failure.

Living close to pubs, bars, and fast-food restaurants may lead to a higher risk of heart failure, according to research published today in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.

These kinds of ready-to-eat food environments typically provide unhealthy foods and drinks and have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, says study senior author Lu Qi, MD, PhD, a professor in the epidemiology department at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Few studies have assessed the relationship between heart failure and food environment, the authors note. This study is likely the first to assess the association between food environment and heart failure with long-term observation.

“Most previous research on the relation between nutrition and human health has been focused on food quality, while neglecting the impact of food environment,” Qi says in a release. “Our study highlights the importance of accounting for food environment in nutrition research.”

Researchers evaluated the association using data from the UK Biobank—a large-scale database containing health information for more than 500,000 adults in the United Kingdom. They measured enrollees’ exposure to three types of food environments—pubs or bars, restaurants or cafeterias, and fast-food restaurants. Exposure was determined by proximity (living within 1-kilometer/0.62 miles or within a 15-minute walk) and density (the number of ready-to-eat food outlets within the predefined 1-kilometer/0.62 miles).

The study documented nearly 13,000 heart failure cases during a 12-year follow-up period, recorded through national electronic health-related datasets.

The analysis found that closer proximity and a greater density of ready-to-eat food outlets were associated with an elevated risk of heart failure.

Specifically, the results include:

  • Overall, participants in the highest density of ready-to-eat food outlets—defined as 1 kilometer/.62-mile area with 11 or more ready-to-eat outlets—had a 16% greater risk of heart failure compared to those with no ready-to-eat food environments near their homes.
  • Those in the highest-density areas of pubs and bars showed a 14% higher risk for heart failure, while those in the highest-density areas for fast-food outlets had a 12% higher risk.
  • Participants who lived closest to pubs and bars—less than 500 meters (.31 miles)—had a 13% higher risk of heart failure; while those closest to fast-food outlets had a 10% higher risk compared to those who lived the farthest away (more than 2,000 meters or 1.24 miles).
  • Heart failure risk was stronger among participants without a college degree and adults in urban areas without access to formal physical activity facilities such as gyms.

The findings were in line with expectations, Qi says in a release, “because previous studies have suggested that exposure to ready-to-eat food environments is associated with risks of other disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which may also increase the risk of heart failure.”

Authors noted the findings suggest that improving access to healthier food environments and physical fitness facilities in urban areas, along with helping more people attain higher levels of education, could reduce the increased risk of heart failure linked to quick-meal options.

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