The South Becoming Known as “The Stroke Belt”

If you regularly read the newspapers, you can’t escape the ridiculous amount of print given to stories that link something common in our diet to chronic disease or even worse, something catastrophic –like a heart attack or a stroke. Obviously, way too much money is being spent funding studies that verify things we already know. I mean, who doesn’t know that a steady diet of ice cream may lead to weight gain or that eating fruit and vegetables is probably a good idea? The point is: Enough is enough. We get it already.

It was in that cynical spirit, however, that I found myself intently reading the results of a new study conducted at the University of Alabama (at Birmingham) where its researchers confirmed something that, frankly, they might have simply left alone.

I live in the “stroke belt.”

Yes, researchers at UAB have drawn the strongest link to date between the traditional southern diet and increased risk of stroke. “Diet is an understudied risk factor for stroke,” said lead study author Suzanne Judd, PhD, of UAB. “What was surprising about what we found was that when eating certain foods in the southern diet — fried foods, organ meats, gizzards, sweet tea — even when you account for other factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical activity, people still experienced a 30 percent increase in stroke risk.”

Wait a minute; that means that the grossly overweight (but lovable) rednecks I know who chew, spit, smoke and drink a case of Bud light every day; whose only source of lean protein comes in the form of a Slim Jim; who think that fried pickles and ranch dressing are clever; that they only need to give up sweet tea and fried foods to normalize their stroke risk?

Reality check: According to various related stories that hit the news cycle yesterday, the researchers looked at more than 20,000 black and white study participants over 45 years old. They asked the subjects to detail their weekly diet habits, focusing on 56 different types of food. The subjects then underwent a medical evaluation and were followed over a period of nearly five years (check up at regular six-month intervals), during which researchers tallied the number of strokes these people experienced. The result: 41% more strokes among whites and 63% more strokes among black Americans.

Unfortunately, those are sobering numbers.

By the way, fried pickles and ranch dressing aren’t just “clever” –it’s genius!

—Tom Finn

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