Food Deserts and CV Risk

Study Questions:

Is living in food deserts associated with cardiovascular (CV) risk, independent of socioeconomic status?


A cross-sectional, secondary analysis of merged data collected from two studies consisting of Atlanta, GA, community participants and a cohort of Emory University employees was conducted. The United States Department of Agriculture definition of food deserts (locations with low access to healthy food and low income) was used to examine associations of food deserts with novel serum biomarkers (cholesterol, glucose, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, cystine, and glutathione) and noninvasive methods for measuring arterial stiffness for predicting CV risk. Data were modelled using regression analyses.


Of the 1,421 participants, 187 (13.2%) lived in food deserts. The mean age of sample participants was 49.4 ± 10.2 years, and 38.5% of participants were men. Significantly more black participants lived in food deserts compared with other ethnicities. Participants living in food deserts had significantly lower education and income levels than those not living in food deserts. Hypertension, smoking, and high body mass index and glucose were significantly more prevalent among participants living in food deserts than those not living in food deserts. Inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers, except cysteine, were significantly higher in food deserts, and arterial compliance was significantly lower. Having an unfavorable CV health profile was a function of area income rather than food access, with individual income having the greatest impact on CV disease risk.


Persons living in food deserts in Atlanta, GA, had higher prevalence of CV risk, inflammation, oxidative stress, and low arterial compliance as a function of socioeconomic factors, such as area and personal income. The findings implicate low-income neighborhoods and low personal incomes in higher CV disease risk.


Observational findings from this secondary analysis deserve further examination with larger, more diverse samples, including heterogeneous ethnicities, wide geographic coverage, urban and rural geographic areas, and attention to living arrangement (i.e., living with others vs. living alone). Over two-thirds of the current sample were college-educated, and nearly half of the sample had an annual income greater than $75,000, which might not be reflective of the general population and, as such, lacks generalizability. This study identified novel biomarkers and socioeconomic factors among persons living in food deserts, but further research is needed to expand upon and confirm findings in larger, diverse populations.

Clinical Topics: Dyslipidemia, Prevention, Lipid Metabolism, Nonstatins, Hypertension, Smoking, Stress

Keywords: Cardiovascular Diseases, Risk Factors, Socioeconomic Factors, Social Class, Residence Characteristics, Poverty Areas, Biological Markers, Body Mass Index, Oxidative Stress, Smoking, Hypertension, Cholesterol, Vascular Stiffness, Glucose, C-Reactive Protein

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