Food insecurity can affect heart disease, research says



While diet and nutrition can affect your cardiovascular health, a new study suggests that a lack access to food and the stress caused by that food insecurity were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Food insecurity is limited uncertain access to nutritionally safe and adequate foods. Food insecurity can also mean the lack of means to acquire food.

“Food insecurity is a derived outcome of systemic racism, classism and social engineering,” said Morgan Hood, community programming manager for the Gem City Market. “Some would argue this is a byproduct of ignorance and trial and error, while others would say it is intentional.”

Food insecurity also disproportionately impacts Black, Hispanic and single-parent households. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found in 2018 that 11.1% of all U.S. households were food insecure — with 13.9% of all households with children also food insecure.

The availability of supermarkets in neighborhoods with predominantly Black residents is only 52% of that in neighborhoods comprising predominantly white residents after adjusting for income, according to researchers in the journal Preventative Medicine.

The recent JAMA study found economic food insecurity, but not proximity to unhealthy food options, was associated with risks of coronary heart disease. These associations persisted after further adjustment for diet quality and perceived stress. High frequency of unfavorable food stores was not associated with coronary heart disease, heart failure, or stroke, researchers said. Researchers pointed to economic food insecurity as a potential target for intervention to improve health outcomes.

Most at risk

Incidents of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular disease mortality are increasing in working-age adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are a number of populations who have an increased risk of getting heart disease, including older adults, as well as adults who are Black, Hispanic, or Native American. The CDC said Black adults are among those bearing the highest burden of cardiovascular disease and the related health consequences. Black adults in the U.S. die from heart disease at a rate two times higher than white adults.

“The chances of heart disease increase as the age increases,” said Dr. J. Bradley Gibson, interventional cardiologist with Premier Health.

Black adults have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure and obesity, but Gibson said there are additional social factors that play into certain minorities who are at an increased risk of getting heart disease, such as access to proper nutrition and access to health care.

Researchers said many adults are burdened by more than one unfavorable social determinant of health and a greater number of unfavorable factors has been associated with greater cardiovascular disease risk.

Gem City Market, a full-service market at 324 Salem Ave. in West Dayton, brought fresh foods to an area in Dayton that some people called the worst food desert east of the Mississippi River. Hood said that access to food has improved the health and wellness of their customers in that area.

“We see neighbors in our community have regular access to fresh food within walking distance of their homes,” Hood said. “This improves the quality of one’s health from physical, mental/emotional, financial and social aspects. We love serving our community and helping create moments of joy with our shoppers!”

Lifestyle factors can also increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, particularly smoking

“The more risk factors you have, the higher the likelihood,” Gibson said. Those factors can include diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking.

“The chance of having a heart attack in someone that smokes a pack a day or more compared to someone who does not smoke is six times higher for women and three times higher for men,” Gibson said.

When to start screenings

The age to give attention to heart health has turned younger as doctors see more incidents of heart disease in younger patients. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend screenings for heart disease start at the age of 20.

“It’s gotten younger and younger over the years because obviously heart disease is the number one cause of death for people in the world,” Gibson said. “It’s younger than most people think, and we’re seeing that earlier and earlier onset of heart disease.”

Screenings are recommended for younger individuals more often now due to the prevalence of heart disease, Gibson said.

Individuals working certain occupations also need increased screenings for heart disease, such as pilots, commercial truck drivers, and occupations where, if someone were to have a cardiac event, it would endanger a large number of people.

“I think most people still think of it as an older person problem, but we’re starting to see if affect younger patients and every year, it seems like we see young and younger patients,” Gibson said. The other factor is, if the disease is caught earlier, doctors can prevent major issues going forward.

“The earlier we catch it, the more likely we are to prevent someone from having a major cardiac event,” Gibson said.

What to know

Reducing stress, getting rest, and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables are ways to help protect against heart disease, Gibson said, especially quitting smoking. Taking a walk, along with conducting breathing exercises, can help manage stress.

Gibson also said getting screened for heart disease is important, saying, “Know what your cholesterol levels are.”

“Going to get screened is important. If you’re concerned, you should see a doctor,” Gibson said. “If you think you’re having a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately.”

For more information on heart disease, visit

By the numbers:

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Approximately 697,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease in 2020, which was one in every five deaths.

Heart disease cost the United States about $229 billion each year from 2017 to 2018. This includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.

Coronary Artery Disease:

Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing 382,820 people in 2020. Approximately 20.1 million adults aged 20 and older have coronary artery disease (about 7.2%). In 2020, about two in 10 deaths from coronary artery disease happened in adults less than 65 years old.

Heart attacks:

In the U.S., about 805,000 people have a heart attack every year. Of these, 605,000, are a first heart attack and approximately 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack.

About one in five heart attacks are silent—the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.

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