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Living in Poor Neighborhoods Nearly Doubles Risk of Heart Attacks, Stroke
  • Posted March 28, 2024

Living in Poor Neighborhoods Nearly Doubles Risk of Heart Attacks, Stroke

Living in a poor and unhealthy neighborhood could nearly double a person's risk of heart disease and stroke, a new study says.

The findings indicate that all the factors that make for a crummy neighborhood -- air and water pollution, toxic sites, few parks, tons of traffic -- play a significant role in heart health.

So, too, do social and economic factors like low income, poor education, unemployment and lack of access to internet and health care.

These environmental and social factors deliver a “dual hit” to the heart health of people trapped in lousy neighborhoods, said senior researcher Dr. Sarju Ganatra, director of the Cardio-Oncology Program and South Asian Cardio-Metabolic Program at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass.

“I was amazed to see the tight links and complex interplay between social and environmental factors on health outcomes,” Ganatra said.

Even after adjusting for social factors like low income and poor education, “environmental factors played a crucial and independent role in determining various heart disease and other related health outcomes,” Ganatra added.

For the study, researchers rated more than 71,000 U.S. census tracts using the Environmental Justice Index, a database combining demographic, environmental and health data gathered by multiple federal agencies.

People living in neighborhoods beset by harmful environmental factors had about 1.6 times the rate of clogged arteries and more than double the rate of stroke as people living in the best neighborhoods, results showed.

Heart disease risk factors were higher in these vulnerable neighborhoods, with twice the rate of type 2 diabetes, 1.8 times higher rates of kidney disease, and 1.5 times higher rates of high blood pressure and obesity.

About 30% of young adults 18 to 44 live in one of these unhealthy neighborhoods, results show, as well as 21% of black adults and most Hispanic adults.

The findings were published March 27 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Because of these intertwined social and environmental health risks, helping these disadvantaged neighborhoods will require a multi-pronged approach, researchers said.

Cities will need to tackle pollution, poverty, employment, education and affordable housing, along with increasing access to quality health care, the researchers concluded.

“Our aim is to empower the health care community to better inform patients about environmental factors they encounter daily,” Ganatra said in a journal news release. “Patients, in turn, gain the ability to reduce their exposure to harmful environmental conditions, such as exposure to harmful chemicals and air pollutants to minimize health hazards and mitigate health risks.”

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about the social determinants of health.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 27, 2024

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