Penn Medicine researchers find link between food insecurity and cardiovascular death risk

PHILADELPHIA–Food insecurity is one of the nation’s leading health and nutrition issues–about 13.7 million (10.5…

PHILADELPHIA–Food insecurity is one of the nation’s leading health and nutrition issues–about 13.7 million (10.5 percent) of households in the United States were food insecure at some time during 2019, a trend likely to increase in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to preliminary research conducted by researchers at Penn Medicine, increasing rates of food insecurity in counties across the United States are independently associated with an increase in cardiovascular death rates among adults between the ages of 20 and 64.

The large-scale, national study, which will be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020, provides evidence of the link between food insecurity and increased risk of cardiovascular death. This is one of the first national analyses to evaluate changes in both food security and cardiovascular mortality over time, and to see if changes in food insecurity impact cardiovascular health. The findings were also published today in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“This research gives us a better understanding of the connection between economic distress and cardiovascular disease,” said Sameed Khatana, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and instructor of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “What’s going on outside the clinic has significant impact on patients’ health. There are many factors beyond the medications we may be prescribing that can influence their wellbeing, food insecurity being one of them.”

Researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Map the Meal Gap study, to examine county-level cardiovascular death rates and food insecurity rates from 2011 to 2017, among adults age 20 to 64, and those 65 years and older.

The researchers found that while the overall food insecurity rates for the entire country declined between 2011 and 2017, the counties that had the most increase in food insecurity levels had cardiovascular death rates that increased from 82 to 87 per 100,000 individuals. Additionally, for every 1 percent increase in food insecurity, there was a similar increase in cardiovascular mortality among non-elderly adults (0.83 percent).

“There has been a growing disparity when it comes to food insecurity, and this data demonstrates that parts of the country are being left behind. Unfortunately, this may only get worse as the country grapples with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Khatana said. “However, interventions that improve a community’s economic wellbeing could potentially lead to improved community cardiovascular health.”

The authors intend to study whether interventions that improve food insecurity can lead to better cardiovascular health.

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The abstract will be presented in Session QU.AOS.765 Social Determinants of Cardiovascular Health on November 13, 2020, at 9:00 am CST/10:00 am EST.

Penn co-authors include, Atheendar S. Venkataramani, Christina A. Roberto, Lauren A. Eberly, and Peter W. Groeneveld, along with Yale’s Stephen Y. Wang.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.6 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report’s survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $494 million awarded in the 2019 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center–which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report–Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 43,900 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2019, Penn Medicine provided more than $583 million to benefit our community.

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