Does living in a 'food desert' raise your risk for diabetes?

When it comes to certain health risks, where you live might indeed play a role.

But not because of factors like pollution, stress or access to medical care. The proximity of your nearest grocery store could raise your chances of developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, according to new research.

Health impacts on neighborhoods

The findings come from a study at Indiana University, which examined the health impact of developing a grocery stores in a low-income urban neighborhood in east Indianapolis. The area's nearest grocery stores are two to five miles away, which puts them in what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a "food desert" – a census tract with low-income residents that have limited access to healthy, affordable food retail outlets.

The research team found that residents of this particular Indianapolis community had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke than other areas in the county.

"We looked at those particular diagnoses because they are ones that are influenced by eating a healthy diet and being more physically active," said Cynthia Stone, clinical associate professor in the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and lead study author.

Residents of the area were also found to have higher hospitalization rates and more emergency room visits than other county residents.

Food deserts

According to the USDA's Economic Research Service, 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in food deserts. In the community being studied, many residents rely on public transportation, often traveling 30 to 45 minutes away to get to the nearest grocery store.

Interviews conducted with the residents, Stone said, revealed that their purchases were likely to change if they had access to a community grocery store. Currently, the area has 11 convenience stores – only two of which sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Residents also indicted a need not only for a grocery store but for nutritional education about healthy food, particularly for men who tended to purchase fewer healthy foods than women," a press release on the study stated.

Stone's research was discussed last week at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Boston.

Source: Indiana University

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