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Challenges of Living Healthy in Atlanta – Part 1: Easing off the South Your Mouth

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By David Martin, RN, President and CEO, VeinInnovations

In September, as the weather cools down a bit and the dogwood leaves begin to turn, Atlanta is a remarkable place to be. For those of us who love being outdoors, it’s easy to agree on Atlanta’s desirability as a wonderful place to live. If you need a great place to bike or run, Atlanta’s infrastructure is pretty solid. Likewise, the number of hospitals, physicians, and healthcare facilities boost Atlanta’s rating with regard to liveability.

There are some health disadvantages to living here however, including stress evoked by traffic, challenges with allergens, and cultural factors that lead to Fulton County, the county containing most of the City of Atlanta, ranking as number 27 out of 159 Georgia counties on the premature death standard.

In the next few weeks we’ll be looking at Atlanta’s health advantages, and some of the factors that have a negative impact on the way its overall score stacks up.

Crispy-on-the-outside; juicy-on-the-inside is a downside.    

We’ll start with diet, as for many, Southern faire is a cultural point of pride.

As the South has become more and more of a melting pot of cultures and lifestyles, most of us are switching up our diet to include new, healthier offerings.  And that is a very good thing. Outcomes do not bode well, however, for the diehard Southerner who loves a steady diet of crispy fried chicken, buttered biscuits, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all washed down with a tumbler of sweet tea.

A recent study examining the eating habits of what more than 17,000 black and white adults living in the U.S. ate over the last six years found that people who ate Southern food frequently were 56% more likely to die of a heart attack or heart disease than those who ate southern food minimally. Researchers also followed up to check up on participants’ health problems.

Prior to the study, factors that could impact results – education level, income, physical activity, smoking, and age, were factored in. When they enrolled in the study, none of the participants had heart disease.

Thirty percent of the participants in the study lived in what became known as the “Stroke Belt” and the “Stroke Alley”:  North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The study revealed that  people residents of the Stroke Belt were more likely to exercise less, have a higher body mass index, and smoke.

The coastal plain of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia earned the name of the “Stroke Buckle.” Another 20 percent of subjects lived in this high-risk area.

The takeaway from this study? According to Dr. James Shikany, lead researcher for the study and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,  “Regardless of your gender, race, or where you live, if you frequently eat a Southern-style diet, you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and try to make some gradual changes to your diet.”

Making an effort to eat more plant-based foods was another take-away Dr. Shikany shared.

Explaining that he wasn’t just trying to create fear, Dr. Shikany shared that participants profiled were part of a broader study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke. This study is also called REGARDS, and  is a larger study of white and black adults age 45 and older. He explains that the numbers could have been skewed, as “it’s possible that the participants didn’t accurately remember what types of foods they ate and how often they ate them.”

Whatever the case, as it related to Dr. Shikany’s advice, perhaps it makes sense – as we ride our bikes down the Beltline and pull into Krog Street Market – to load up on raw veggies and try some steamed collards, baked chicken, and iced tea sweetened with stevia.

ANDREA VERSION

Living Healthy in Atlanta is relatively easy on some counts; harder on others. Check the latest from a new report on skipping the sweet tea and fried chicken.

By David Martin, RN, President and CEO, VeinInnovations

In September, as the weather cools down a bit and the dogwood leaves begin to turn, Atlanta is a remarkable place to be. For those of us who love being outdoors, it’s easy to agree on Atlanta’s desirability as a wonderful place to live. If you need a great place to bike or run, Atlanta’s infrastructure is pretty solid. Likewise, the number of hospitals, physicians, and healthcare facilities boost Atlanta’s rating with regard to livability.

There are some health disadvantages to living here however, including stress evoked by traffic, challenges with allergens, and cultural factors that lead to Fulton County – the county containing most of the City of Atlanta – ranking as number 27 out of 159 Georgia counties on the premature death standard.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at Atlanta’s health advantages and some of the factors that have a negative impact on the way our overall score stacks up.

Crispy-on-the-outside; juicy-on-the-inside is a downside.

We’ll start with diet, because for many, Southern fare is a cultural point of pride.

As the South has become more and more of a melting pot of cultures and lifestyles, most of us are switching up our diet to include new, healthier offerings and that is a very good thing. Outcomes do not bode well, however, for the diehard Southerner who loves a steady diet of crispy fried chicken, buttered biscuits, and mashed potatoes and gravy, all washed down with a tumbler of sweet tea.

Recently, a study examining the eating habits of what more than 17,000 black and white adults living in the U.S. over the last six years found that people who ate Southern food frequently were 56% more likely to die of a heart attack or heart disease than those who ate southern food minimally. Researchers also followed up to check up on participants’ health problems.
Thirty percent of the participants in the study lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana — earning this strip of southeastern states the not-so-cute nicknames of the “Stroke Belt” and the “Stroke Alley.” Another 20 percent of subjects lived along the “Stroke Buckle,” which is the coastal plain of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The study also found that people living along the Stroke Belt were more likely to smoke, have a higher body mass index, and exercise less.

The bottom-line finding: “Regardless of your gender, race, or where you live, if you frequently eat a Southern-style diet, you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and try to make some gradual changes to your diet,” said Dr. James Shikany, the study’s lead researcher and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in a report for the American Heart Association.
Dr. Shikany also recommended that Americans make an effort to eat more plant-based foods.
This wasn’t just another fear-mongering either; participants profiled were part of a broader study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke, a.k.a. REGARDS, which is a larger study of white and black adults age 45 and older.

However, like all studies that try to pinpoint diet and health disparities, it did have its drawbacks. “It’s possible that the participants didn’t accurately remember what types of foods they ate and how often they ate them,” the researchers said.

Per Dr. Shikany’s advice, perhaps it makes sense – as we ride our bikes down the Beltline and pull into Krog Street Market – to load up on some raw veggies and a try some steamed collards, baked chicken, and iced tea sweetened with stevia.

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