Study: Lack of access to healthy food in Michigan leads to healt - WNEM TV 5

Study: Lack of access to healthy food in Michigan leads to health problems

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Health officials say a lack of fresh food choices is linked to signs of early heart disease.

New research from the American Heart Association shows 1.8 million Michigan residents live in communities with little to no access to healthy foods.

“The lack of healthy food stores may help explain why people in these neighborhoods have more heart disease,” said Jeffrey Wing, Ph.D., M.P.H., co-lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The thought is that greater access to healthier foods may have promoted healthier diets and, in turn, less coronary plaque formation.”

Past studies found that limited fresh food choices and/or numerous fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods were linked to unhealthy diets.

In this study, researchers looked at the amount of health food stores available in a community, as well as how walkable a neighborhood was and if there were recreational facilities nearby.

At the beginning of the study, participants underwent a CT scan. The results showed 86 percent showed a buildup of calcium in their coronary artery at three different readings over an average of 3.5 years between measurements.

The data suggested the lack of access to heart-healthy food stores caused early onset of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque inside your arteries. 

We found that healthy food stores within one mile of their home was the only significant factor that reduced or slowed the progression of calcium buildup in coronary arteries,” said Ella August, Ph.D., co-lead author who initiated the study and clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Our results point to a need for greater awareness of the potential health threat posed by the scarcity of healthy grocery options in certain neighborhoods.”

Researchers said future studies should look at the impact of specific interventions, such as promoting the location of healthy food stores and how neighborhood characteristics may interact with individual risk factors and genetic predispositions.

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