Why living near fast food outlets is bad for your heart

People who live within 500 metres of a fast food restaurant are more likely to develop heart disease, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Global Geo Health Data Centre at Utrecht University examined individuals living close to fast food outlets like McDonalds and their risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study analysed data based on more than two million adults aged 35 years and over, who were free from cardiovascular disease and had been living at the same address for at least 15 years.

Participants were followed for one year to identify incidence of cardiovascular disease, which included heart failure, coronary heart disease and stroke.

The researchers calculated the number of fast food outlets that could be reached by road within 500m, 1km and 3km of each participant’s home.

The findings showed individuals had an approximately 13 per cent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease if they lived within 500m of one or more fast food outlets compared to areas with none.

The incidence of coronary heart disease was roughly 17 per cent higher among those who lived within 1km of five or more fast food chains compared to none.

The number of fast food outlets has expanded rapidly, selling foods associated with cardiovascular disease such as products that are high in salt, saturated fat and calories.

The number of McDonalds outlets increased by almost 20 per cent globally in the past decade, according to the study.

Lead author, Dr Maartje Poelman of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said: “We know from previous research that the type of food available to purchase where people live influences their food choices.

“Our study suggests that city dwellers living within one kilometre of fast food outlets eat more fast food, which increases their risk of coronary heart disease.”

School children at risk

Dr Poelman believe it’s important that public health policies start to reflect the influence of the food environment on health, supporting a recent suggestion by the Mayor of London to ban new ‘hot food takeaways’ around schools.

“We need to create healthier environments to prevent heart disease and banning fast food outlets, or regulating a maximum number, is one piece of the puzzle,” said Dr Poelman. “Other elements include improving the availability of fresh and healthy food to buy. We can stimulate people to buy healthy food if we create an environment where it is the default choice.”

According to the Cancer Council Australia, the average Australian household spends 28% of its food budget on fast food and eating out. The average fast food meal provides almost half of an adult’s daily energy requirements.

Currently in Australia, each state has its own guidelines for food that is permitted to be sold in school canteens, banning foods low in nutritional value such as deep-fried food, products containing artificial sweeteners and confectionary. But there is still more work to be done outside the school area.

Share this article