Southern U.S. Diet Raises Heart Disease Risk
No matter how good it tastes, traditional Southern cooking may not be good for you. New research at the University of Alabama conlcudes that a steady diet of fried chicken, biscuits with gravy and other regional staples can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease.
For six years, researchers followed the diets of 17,400 white and black American adults over the age of 45. None of the participants had heart disease at the start. This research was part of an ongoing study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. Participants answered how much they ate Southern foods, such as fried and fatty foods, processed meats, organs such as liver, eggs and sugary drinks. In total, 536 cases of heart attack were reported during the study—some fatal.
After adjusting for other factors that could influence heart attack risk, such as smoking, education, age, income and physical activity, the results showed that people who ate more Southern foods were 56 percent more likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease than those who did not eat much Southern food. About 30 percent of participants lived in what’s known as the “Stroke Belt,” formed by North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. About 20 percent were from the “Stroke Buckle,” which includes the coastal plain of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Those most likely to eat Southern foods were black men in the Stroke Belt who did not graduate from high school. They earned, on average, less than $20,000 annually, had a higher body maBMI) and waist circumference, and were likely to smoke and not exercise much.
One limitation to the study is that the eating habits were self-reported by the participants, who could inaccurately report what they ate and how frequently.
The study was published in the journal Circulation. This study is one of the first to examine the connection between diet and heart attack risk among people from all over the U.S and from various socioeconomic backgrounds.