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ICES study shows more neighbourhood fast-food joints = more heart disease, more deaths


If you live in a neighbourhood with many fast-food restaurants, you are also likely to be living in a neighbourhood with more heart disease and more deaths, a new study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) shows.

“We’ve found an important link between the number of fast-food outlets in a region and the rate of heart disease and mortality in that region,” said ICES scientist Dr. David Alter. “While our study focused on Ontario, our findings carry a critical message that can be generalized across regions in Canada and other jurisdictions where fast food is readily available.”

To conduct the study, ICES researchers calculated the per capita rate of fast-food outlets, using the top nine fast-food chains in 2001, for each of 380 regions throughout Ontario. They compared this information to regional per capita mortality rates, and hospitalizations for acute coronary syndromes (i.e., chest pain and heart attacks).

Mortality and hospital admissions for acute coronary syndromes were higher in regions with greater numbers of fast-food services. If a region had 10-19 fast-food outlets per 100,000 people, the mortality rate went up 35 per 100,000. For regions with 20 or more fast-food outlets, mortality went up 62 per 100,000.

When looking at hospitalizations for heart attacks and chest pain, 10-19 fast-food outlets per 100,000 people translated into a 28 per 100,000 increase in hospitalizations, while 20 or more fast-food joints resulted in a jump in hospitalizations of 47 per 100,000.

The relationship between fast-food and adverse outcomes was equally bad in both poor and affluent neighbourhoods.

“Our study sends a strong message at a time when obesity rates in adults and children are rising rapidly across the nation. With fast-food being so readily available and “easy” given the busy lifestyles that people lead, there is an urgent need for targeted health promotion and prevention strategies to communities with the poorest health profiles and the poorest lifestyle behaviours.

“There needs to be disincentives put in place to curtail fast-food demand and promote the consumption of healthier food in high-mortality regions, such as exploring tax-based or other reform initiatives,” said Dr. Alter.

The study, “The relationship between the supply of fast-food chains and cardiovascular outcomes”, is in the May 2005 issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Author affiliations: ICES (all authors); Division of Cardiology, Schulich Heart Centre, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre (Dr. Alter), and the University of Toronto (Dr. Alter).

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.


  • Julie Argles
  • Media Relations Officer, ICES
  • (416) 480-4780 or cell (416) 432-8143


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