Diet is one of the determinants of health, which is why the scientific community has been warning about the harmful effects of fast food and ultra-processed foods for years. Its consumption favors the appearance of pathologies such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and, of course, obesity. However, even if all this information is known, avoiding its consumption is sometimes not so simple, especially for people who live in areas known as “food swamps”. These are areas where a large number of fast food restaurants and convenience stores are concentrated, also known as 24 hours.
The concept of a “food swamp” was coined more than a decade ago and began to be studied in the United States, but now it occurs practically everywhere in the world. Manuel Franco, professor of epidemiology at the University of Alcala de Henares and at Johns Hopkins, qualifies that in the North American country the concept of a food desert is much more common, areas full of these establishments, but in which there is also no option of get fresh food. “In Spain, although there are a large number of these places, you also have markets and shops to buy healthy products,” explains the expert.
The first results of a study carried out by researchers at Columbia University (New York) show that people who live in areas considered food swamps have a higher risk of suffering a stroke from the age of 50. The researchers, who have had the data of more than 17,800 people, found that many of them lived in areas where the number of stores that sold unhealthy food was six times higher than the number of stores with fresh products. “Living in these places greatly conditions the diet,” says Dixon Yang, lead author of the text, adding that this phenomenon greatly increases the chances of consuming fast food and ultra-processed foods.
The consumption of these foods can cause arteriosclerosis, says Andres Iniguez, president of the Spanish Heart Foundation. It is a condition in which fats and cholesterol accumulate in the arteries and their walls, which can block blood flow and lead to ischemic heart disease, which prevents this organ from receiving the blood it needs to function. correctly.
Living in ‘food swamps’ greatly conditions the diet and greatly increases the chances of consuming fast food
Dixon Yang, a researcher at Columbia University
In 2021, nine and a half million people worldwide died from this pathology, according to a review of studies published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. That same year, in Spain, ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases were the main causes of death, only surpassed by covid, according to the INE.
For Valentin Fuster, general director of the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC), food swamps are one more piece in the puzzle of obesity, which is becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide and directly influences the development of heart disease. . In 2021, 3.7 million of the total deaths in the world were attributed to this pathology, Fuster details in the journal of the American College of Cardiology. A survey carried out in 2021 by the Spanish Heart Foundation showed that almost 17% of the Spanish population suffers from obesity and almost 34% is overweight.
The three Spanish experts agree that part of the problem is due to the fast pace of life in society. “Now the one who eats well is the one who has time to cook,” says Manuel Franco, who affirms that the food industry is increasingly focused on offering prepared products to people so they don’t have to worry about using a frying pan.
The worse your diet, the more risk you have of developing diseases and dying from them.
Manuel Franco, professor of epidemiology at the University of Alcala de Henares and at Johns Hopkins in the USA
Although the Mediterranean diet has always been an example of healthy and sustainable eating, in Spain it has already begun to be a minority and there is a greater tendency to consume ultra-processed products, explains the epidemiologist, who also believes that there is a lack of awareness. “The worse your diet, the more risk you have of developing diseases and of dying from them,” Franco determines, adding that, on this issue, “we are very green.”
Andres Iniguez, from the Spanish Heart Foundation, explains that the first step is to make the population aware of the negative impact of heart disease: “What society is at stake is that there is a greater burden of cardiovascular disease,” he points out. For Franco, it is necessary to understand the importance of food today: “Being able to buy and cook is related to eating better.”
a matter of money
Franco’s team published in 2019 an investigation into the number of junk food establishments that were 400 meters from schools in the city of Madrid. Schools in high-income areas had 40% fewer of these stores in their surroundings than those in middle-income neighborhoods, and these, in turn, had 60% fewer than centers located in low-income areas. “Really those people [con bajos ingresos] they live in a much less healthy place”, the expert explains.
The epidemiologist speaks of a structural situation of food insecurity. According to the FAO, this phenomenon occurs when a person does not have regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and to lead an active and healthy life. In Spain this affects almost two and a half million households (representing more than six million people) and, of those houses, 5.2% suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity.
Yang also acknowledges the weight of the socioeconomic factor and that many of these food swamps coincide with “poorer and less affluent areas.” The researcher admits that, although he recommends that his patients follow a healthier diet and lifestyle habits, not everyone can buy fresh products and that “is a more difficult risk to eliminate,” he concludes.
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Source: EL PAIS