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Study pairs fast-food restaurants and likelihood of strokes

SAN DIEGO Living near a lot of fast-food restaurants might contribute to your chances of having a stroke, according to data presented at a conference of the American Stroke Association.

MedPage Today, which covers medical news for physicians, reported on a study of the 1,247 ischemic strokes that took place in Nueces County in Texas from January 2000 through June 2003. The researchers found a statistically significant association between the number of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood and the likelihood of suffering from a stroke.

Residents with an average of 33 fast-food restaurants per neighborhood had a 13 percent higher stroke risk than areas with an average of 12 fast-food locations, even after taking into account other demographic factors including age, gender, race, ethnicity and socio-economic status.

CNN quoted National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Beth Johnson as criticizing the study.

“This article is seriously flawed and by its own admission shows no correlation whatsoever between dining at chain restaurants and incidence of stroke,” she said. “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.”

The study, by a team from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor led by doctor Lewis B. Morgenstern, defined fast-food restaurants as any restaurant that had two or more of the following characteristics: expedited service, limited wait staff, takeout business and payment before being served.

The researchers did emphasize that the study did not say the fast-food restaurants were the cause of the increased stroke rate but that the restaurants may be indications of other factors that lead to higher stroke risk. Or, it could be “simply a spurious artifact” of the larger survey of the demographic area: the Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi study, which looked at a wide range of factors correlating to strokes in the Texas county.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].

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