Natural Health Remedies | Jon Barron's Health Blog

Date: 02/21/2009    Written by: Jon Barron

Living Near Fast Food Restaurants Is Deadly

Healthy Weight Loss

The more fast food joints in your neighborhood, the greater the chance you'll have a stroke according to research out of the University of Michigan. The study, which looked at stroke prevalence in relation to density of fast food restaurants in 64 census areas in Texas, found a 13 percent increase in strokes in those neighborhoods with the most fast-food restaurants, after adjusting for socioeconomic status and demographics. According to the authors of the study, "The association suggested that the risk of stroke in a neighborhood increased by one percent for every fast-food restaurant."

The neighborhoods with the least number of fast food restaurants counted fewer than 12 within their borders (an astonishing number by itself), whereas the densest fast-food neighborhoods had more than 33. While the researchers admit that they can't exactly pinpoint the reason for the inflated stroke incidence in the region of the fast-food cornucopia, they insist that there is a link.

As study director Lewis Morgenstern said, "What we don't know is whether fast food actually increased the risk because of its contents or whether fast-food restaurants are a marker of unhealthy neighborhoods....We need to start unraveling why these particular communities have higher stroke risks. Is it direct consumption of fast food? Is it the lack of more healthy options? Is there something completely different in these neighborhoods that is associated with poor health?"

Naturally, the restaurant industry took umbrage, commenting that the statistics showed nothing about the quality of offerings at the restaurants involved. Beth Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association commented, "This article is seriously flawed and by its own admission shows no correlation whatsoever between dining at chain restaurants and the incidence of stroke. Further, it tells us nothing about the eating and exercise habits of the individuals involved. The restaurant industry continues to offer a growing number of healthier offerings, move away from the use of trans fats and provide more nutrition information."

She's right, at least, about the study neglecting to consider the overall eating habits of the neighborhood denizens. But it does seem logical that those living around the corner from a potpourri of fast-food places might frequent them more often than if they had to drive ten miles to reach them. And as for the growing number of healthier offerings, let's look at the facts:

  • A double quarter-pounder with cheese at McDonalds has 740 calories, 42 grams of fat, and 1380 mg of sodium. A "healthier" option, the grilled chicken-club sandwich, has 530 calories and 1470 mg of sodium. Add a small triple-thick shake and you've got another 440 calories. To see where eating such delights might lead, watch the movie Supersize Me.
  • At KFC, a modest meal of a honey-barbecue chicken sandwich, with a side of coleslaw and mashed potatoes yields 620 calories, 18.5 grams of fat, and 1630 mg of sodium.
  • At Taco Bell, a virtuous-sounding "Zesty Chicken Border Bowl, without dressing" yields only 360 calories and eight grams of fat, but 1650 mg of sodium! Then again, who eats a salad without dressing? Add the zesty dressing served with the bowl, and you're back up to 560 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 1900 mg of sodium.

Yes, these fast-food restaurants have made efforts to eliminate the trans-fats, and that's a good thing. But let's be honest here. They screamed bloody murder when that health option was forced on them. I don't know; is it ethically moral to brag about doing something you were forced to do against your will? And trans fats aside, they still get a failing grade when it comes to many other aspects of nutrition. For example, when we're talking about stroke, the sodium count from added commercial salt counts for a lot too. According to Dr. David Katz of the Yale Prevention Research Center, "Among the many ills of fast food is an extremely high sodium content. A single highly processed fast food meal may provide a full day's sodium requirement, or more. "Sodium is a contributor to hypertension; hypertension is a contributor to stroke."

And yes, it is true that other factors might be at play: more car fumes in areas with lots of fast-food restaurants, for one thing; and yes, fewer parks and recreational areas, and maybe fewer people with the budget to afford a gym membership. There's also the question of what types of exhaust and waste do these restaurants generate, and what effect does that have on the neighbors. One study found a dramatic increase in lung-cancer rates among women exposed to cooking oil fumes from stir-frying 30 dishes a week. It's a known fact that cooking fumes emit several types of toxic substances when low-quality oils are used and heated to high temperatures. Also, Teflon-coated pans and pans treated with other non-stick substances give off dangerous fumes when heated. And so, living in a neighborhood rife with oils heating and fries frying and non-stick pans "afuming" can possibly do damage even if you don't frequent the eateries responsible.

But then again, that would still make them culpable, wouldn't it?


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    Submitted by Jon Barron on
    February 25, 2009 - 4:03am


    Yes, I realize that as Benjamin Disraeli said, ""There are three kinds of lies in the world -- lies, damn lies, and statistics."" Did you know that there is a 100% correlation between people who drink water and people who die?

    But in this case I believe you are incorrect. The connection between the concentration of fast food outlets and ill health is not radom chance. Although this particular study does not connect the dots, they have been connected in numerous other studies and are connected by simple laws of math and economics. The connection between diets high in fast foods and obesity and illness such as heart disease and diabetes is definite. This particular study doesn't prove that -- but it does reinforce all the other studies that have preceded it. Fast food outlets are concentrated in poor communities and in certain ethnic communities, particular African American and Latino. These communites also have the highest rates of obesity, heart diesease, and diabetes.

    It is not just studies that support this, but simple economics tells us that fast food outlets will place their franchises where more people buy their food. Where smaller concentrations of people buy fast food, there will be fewer outlets available per person. Where higher percentages of people buy, there will be a greater concentration of outlets to support those eating habits. If you do not believe this to be true, then it's probably a good thing (at least from the stockholder perspective) that you are not making executive decisions for any of these chains. And quite simply, it is because the location of fast food outlets are made by conscious marketing decisions and not random chance, that the connection between location and consumption is likewise not random chance.

    PS: and for a full discussion of salt and sodium, check out A Pillar of Salt.

    Submitted by Murray on
    February 24, 2009 - 4:43pm

    Post hoc ergo procter hoc
    The logical fallacy. The article you quote is using statistics to make a non-case and using them wrongly. It is stretching - to breaking point - the role of coincidence.
    Incidentally, people living near a pristine sea coast have greater respiratory problems, no doubt due to the increase in Ozone .... just as valid, just as erroneous. Connecting two unrelated factors with NO scientifically based connection.
    When you write on sodium - please, please insert the word ""excess"" as without sodium we would not have much feeling - sodium on one side of the myelin sheath - potassium on the other ... making nerve pathways.
    Shame on you Jon for perpetuating this - for you rail about it when similar things are done to ""prove"" that Vit E causes cancer; or that taking supplements causes this or that disease. Or that ""flushes"" such as you promote to flush out gall stones (etc) work, when there is a significant body of scientific study that disputes this.

    Submitted by Murray on
    February 25, 2009 - 11:24am

    Yes, the dreaded dihydrogen oxide!
    I'll have to take my whisky straight!
    Nice link to salt - thanks - and it emphasizes the need to balance Na and K as well as Mg. Then of course Mg needs to be balanced against Ca .... and so it goes

    Submitted by priyanka on
    March 27, 2009 - 7:06am

    the article is helpful!!
    i wanted to get a statiscal data for the number of fast food chains in UK AND ALSO a graph for increase in hypertension over the years.
    i wanted to link both these graphs!!
    can you help me?

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