Long Life and Health
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Why You Should Avoid a “Food Swamp”

Have you heard of a “food swamp?” If you are like a lot of Americans struggling to live healthily, you may live in one, and it’s shortening your life, and you may not even know it!

A food swamp is an area with a higher density of fast food and junk food options rather than healthy options.

New research by Columbia University Medical Center looked at whether your risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease varies based on how close you live to a so-called food swamp. As it turns out, it certainly does!

Among nearly 18,000 adults age 50 and older, those living in US counties high on the food swamp scale had a 13% higher risk of suffering a stroke, compared to those living in areas where they had access to more healthy food options.

“It’s been previously shown that food swamp is also more of an indicator for obesity as well,” Dr. Charles Hong, a cardiologist with the University of Maryland Medical Center, said.

Hong said there are many reasons behind this.

“Fast food or pre-packaged food are fattier, saltier, and have basically high amount of phosphate additives, and these 3 ingredients that are highly prevalent in processed foods are leading indication of atherosclerosis, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, and heart failure,” Hong said.

One of the “swampiest” areas to live in? Baltimore.

In 2020, the Baltimore metro area topped a CBS news list at number 12 for densest cities when it comes to fast food options.

US Census data revealed there are about 97 fast-food restaurants per 100,000 residents in the Baltimore area.

“If you live in certain parts of Baltimore, there is no healthy option,” Hong said. “These fast foods and pre-packaged foods are relatively inexpensive, and a lot of our neighbors that live in a lower economic background are busy. So, I think sometimes, it’s not just a matter of convenience, but it’s something that is sort of forced out in them.”

Hong said the key to eating well and living healthier is “everything in moderation.” Adding, “It’s important to keep in mind convenience doesn’t necessarily mean healthier.

“I think we all live in a food swamp to a degree… even in the suburbs. As a matter of fact, it’s everywhere, but it’s your choice to live a healthy lifestyle.”

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