Would you like a stroke with your cheeseburger? Scientists have found that your chances of becoming seriously ill may actually be related to how many Burger Kings and KFCs are operating in your town. Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that the risk of stroke increases with the preponderance of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood.

In the recently published study, Texas residents with the highest number of fast-food restaurants had a 13% higher relative risk of suffering strokes than those living in areas with the lowest number of restaurants. Each additional McDonald’s, Jack in the Box or Taco Bell also increased the risk of stroke by 1%.

The correlation between stroke rates and fast food emerged from an investigation of strokes in Nueces County, Texas; researchers recorded all 1,247 strokes that occurred in the county between 2000 and mid-2003. The region is home to Corpus Christi, a city that has 280,000 people and 262 fast food restaurants.

The scientists split the city into 64 neighborhoods with roughly the same population, based on available census data. The study was adjusted to account for variations in local population due to factors such as age, race and income. The research results showed that people living in neighborhoods with an average of 33 fast food restaurants suffered 13% more strokes than people who lived near just a dozen fast food joints.

Joanne Murphy, Medical Research Liaison officer at the British Stroke Association remarked:

“Whilst this is the first time we have seen the direct correlation between fast food outlets and risk of stroke, it isn’t surprising. We have known for sometime that food high in saturated fat and salt, which is often the case with fast food, contributes to high blood pressure and obesity which are both risk factors for stroke.”

Burger Prohibition?


However, this research does not necessarily mean that greasy burgers, french fries and fried chicken cause stroke, says Lewis Morgenstern, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who presented the study at the International Stroke Conference in San Diego, California. Dr. Morgenstern said the association between fast-food restaurants and stroke risk warrants much more study, and there are still many unanswered questions. He explained:

“The data shows a true association. What we don’t know is whether fast food actually increased the risk because of its contents, or whether fast-food restaurants are a marker of unhealthy neighborhoods. Rather, fast food could possibly be an indicator for other factors that lead to poor health, such as lack of exercise or poor air quality.

We need to start unraveling why these particular communities have higher stroke risks. Is it direct consumption of fast food? Is it the lack of more healthy options? Is there something completely different in these neighborhoods that is associated with poor health?”

Eliza ponders a fish filet sandwich

Previous research has found links between fast-food, diabetes and obesity, motivating consumer groups to push for laws such as July’s moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in some Los Angeles neighborhoods. So often poor and minority neighborhoods are situated in food deserts, districts with little or no access to fresh healthy food, but often served by an excess of fast food restaurants. And though it is not really surprising news, it seems that fast food really can make you sick.