"This is one of the largest studies to date to show that neighbourhoods exert a pretty powerful influence on your chance of having a heart attack or stroke," said Marilyn Winkleby, PhD, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who conducted the study along with colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The availability of parks or conveniently located markets with fresh produce rather than fast-food restaurants, may make a significant contribution toward differing levels of heart disease, she said.

Researchers analysed data for the entire Swedish population - 1.9 million women and 1.8 million men living in more than 8,000 neighbourhoods. They selected people without any history of coronary heart disease and then followed them from 1996 through 2000 to identify initial occurrences of coronary heart disease and subsequent deaths from heart disease within a year's time of that occurrence.

They found that new cases of heart attacks and stroke were 1.9 times higher for women and 1.5 times higher for men who lived in high-deprivation vs. low-deprivation neighbourhoods. Census data was used to determine the level of neighbourhood "deprivation," which was measured by an index of education, income, unemployment and welfare assistance levels.

Results also showed that the chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke in the first year after having an event was 1.6 times higher for women and 1.7 times higher for men in high- vs. low-deprivation neighbourhoods. Interestingly, even when individual characteristics such as age, marital status, family income, education or immigration status were taken into consideration, the results remained the same.

"We need to rethink health problems to include factors in neighbourhoods, such as building neighbourhood parks and providing accessible grocery stores with quality, affordable produce. Everybody deserves to live in a healthy neighbourhood."

MEDICA.de; Source: Stanford University