Science Advance: Association Between Living in Food Deserts & Cardiovascular Risk, an Atlanta Study

Several Georgia CTSA-supported researchers used existing data from Georgia CTSA’s Center for Health Discovery & Well Being and the Morehouse and Emory Team up to Eliminate Health Disparities (META)-Health Study to build a cohort of over 1,400 healthy individuals residing in the Atlanta metropolitan area to learn more about the cardiovascular risk factors associated with living in a food desert. The findings were recently published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Food deserts (FD) are neighborhoods defined as low-income areas with low access to healthy food. The team of researchers, including Georgia CTSA-supported Arshed Quyyumi, MD (Emory), Laurence Sperling, MD (Emory), Priscilla Pemu, MD, MSc (Morehouse School of Medicine), Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, (Emory), Tene Lewis, PhD, (Emory), Greg Martin, MD, MSc, (Emory), and Gary Gibbons, MD (NHLBI), evaluated the impact of living in FD on cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease (CVD). They further assessed whether the impact of FD on these measures is driven by area income, individual household income, or area access to healthy food.

Compared with those not living in FD, subjects living in FD had a higher prevalence of hypertension and smoking, higher body mass index, fasting glucose, and 10-year risk for CVD. Although living in FD is associated with a higher burden of cardiovascular risk factors and CVD, these associations are mainly driven by area income and individual income rather than access to healthy food.

The study was supported by NHLBI and demonstrates an association between living in food deserts and inflammation, oxidative stress, and arterial stiffness. “The study found that the higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factor burden, oxidative stress, inflammation, and subclinical vascular disease is driven by individual income rather than food access,” said Martin, director, ACTSI’s Clinical Research Network and professor, Emory University School of Medicine.

The Center for Health Discovery & Well Being (CHDWB) cohort includes approximately 750 healthy individuals who were enrolled as early as 2006 and have undergone annual assessments. Clinical and lab variables collected in the cohort and biological specimens (plasma, serum, urine, buffy coat) from each participant are available. The Predictive Health Institute and Georgia CTSA have an ongoing call for research proposals to use data and/or specimens from the CHDWB cohort which are available to all Emory, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), and University of Georgia (UGA) researchers.

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Georgia CTSA Clinical Research Centers (GCRCs) is a multilayered, flexible, and geographically distributed network created to meet the needs of translational and clinical investigators from Emory, MSM, and Georgia Tech. The GCRCs includes nearly 35 clinical research sites across the city incorporating hospital, medical office, and community-based clinical research sites, such as Emory University Hospital, Emory Midtown Hospital, Grady Memorial Hospital, Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, the Ponce Infectious Diseases Clinic, the Hope Clinic, Wesley Woods Health Center, and the Morehouse School of Medicine Clinical Research Center.

Georgia CTSA is a state-wide partnership between Emory, MSM, Georgia Tech, and UGA and is one of over 60 in a national consortium striving to improve the way biomedical research is conducted across the country. The consortium, funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards, shares a common vision to translate laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research efforts, and train the next generation of clinical investigators.