Live near a fast-food joint or pub? UK study says it could wreck your heart and Indian doctors agree!

The risk was more pronounced for individuals without a college education or those living in cities with limited exercise facilities.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Mar 01, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedMar 01, 2024 | 11:00 AM

Representative image. (Creative Commons)

Picture yourself leisurely strolling through your neighbourhood. You hear the dull thumping of house music through the padded walls of lively pubs, are enticed by the alluring aromas emanating from fast-food joints, and are tempted by the delectable scents wafting from bakeries. These urban mainstays, synonymous with convenience and social gatherings, may, however, bear a hidden cost — and not just in your bill.

An interesting study from the UK Biobank, involving half a million adults, reveals a startling correlation: living a stone’s throw away from these culinary havens could significantly escalate the risk of heart failure. Interestingly, Indian doctors agree with this perspective.

Dr Deepak Krishnamurthy, renowned interventional cardiologist at Kauvery Hospital in Bengaluru, explained to South First, “Cardiovascular disease burden is directly proportional to the frequency of dining out.”

What is the study?

Led by Dr Lu Qi, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans, the research team scrutinised over half a million individuals to uncover connections between their residential proximity to food establishments and heart health. Their focus was on the proximity to places offering quick bites or drinks.

“Within a one-kilometre range of where participants lived, there were 3.57 ready-to-eat food outlets on average. The average street distance to pubs and bars was 692 metres; 820 metres to restaurants and cafeterias; and 1,135 metres to fast-food restaurants,” the study cited.

Over a span of 12 years, the researchers observed a worrisome trend. Those residing in close proximity to numerous fast-food joints, bars, and pubs exhibited a higher likelihood of encountering heart problems compared to their counterparts without such establishments in their immediate vicinity.

Interestingly, this risk was even more pronounced for individuals without a college education or those living in cities with limited access to exercise facilities, like gyms.

The study underscores that it’s not merely about adopting a healthy diet or engaging in regular exercise, even the environment one resides in can significantly impact heart health. It issues a warning, urging a reevaluation of one’s neighbuorhood and advocating for the inclusion of salad bars and parks, especially in busy citiies.

Also Read: Cancer cure pills for ₹100 a possibility soon? 

Choices mattered

The risks to heart health, the study asserts, are multifaceted. Firstly, the food commonly found in fast-food outlets, pubs, and bars tends to be rich in calories, saturated fats, sugars, and salt — well-known culprits for heart disease. These dietary elements can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels, all precursors to heart failure.

Secondly, residing in areas saturated with these food outlets might signify a scarcity of healthier alternatives, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. This scarcity poses a challenge for residents striving to maintain a healthy diet, the study argued.

Furthermore, the impact was more pronounced among individuals lacking a college degree and those residing in urban areas bereft of physical activity facilities. This underscores the substantial roles played by socio-economic factors and the built environment, including the availability of spaces for exercise.

The Indian context

In India, especially in South India, doctors emphasise the importance of recognising shared themes despite cultural, dietary, and environmental differences with the West. Dr Jaideep Menon from Amrita Hospital in Kerala succinctly tells South First, “You are what you eat,” extending the adage to “where you eat”, based on the study’s findings.

South India, with its distinctive food culture and urban landscapes, may exhibit analogous patterns regarding how food environments and socio-economic factors influence health outcomes, including heart health.

Dr Mukharjee Madivada, Founder and Interventional Cardiologist of Pulse Heart Centre in Kukatpally, asserts to South First, “The ease of food and beverage availability leads to an increased incidence of diabetes and hypertension. The mushrooming of food delivery apps coincides with the increase in consumption of beverages and processed foods and this, in turn, will lead to an increase in non-communicable diseases.”

In many South Indian cities, doctors note that rapid urbanisation has led to a proliferation of fast-food outlets, offering both Western-style fast food and local quick-service options.

Dr Sanjay G, a physician at Shanti Hospital, Bengaluru, draws parallels with the accessibility and density of fast-food outlets in urban areas in the UK study, potentially resulting in similar health complications for the local population.

Also Read: Nithin Kamath of Zerodha had mild stroke due to stress, poor sleep, excessive exercise

Are we imitating the West?

India is witnessing lifestyle shifts characterised by sedentary jobs and reduced physical activity. Coupled with the increased availability of high-calorie foods, these factors contribute to health issues such as obesity and heart disease.

Dr Deepak advocates for a return to home-cooked meals, emphasising, “Eat what you carry… carry what you eat — is something I believe in.” For those unable to cook at home, he advises opting for healthier alternatives amid the plethora of external options.

Echoing the UK study’s findings, India is also experiencing a dwindling availability of public spaces for exercise, such as parks and recreational facilities, especially in densely populated cities, exacerbating the prevalence of lifestyle diseases.

Dr Mukharjee emphasises, “It has been clearly established that lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are more prevalent among urban populations with easy access to high-calorie junk food.” He also notes the positive impact taxing of sugar-sweetened beverages has had on community health.

Appreciating the study, he says that along with increase in heart failure incidence, as per the study, even alcohol consumption can increase the chance of heart failure.