Study links Arkansas neighborhoods to increased risk of stroke

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - New research out of UAMS shows when it comes to having a stroke, where you live may have something to do with it.

The joint study through the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Department of Health found a wide disparity in risk of stroke from neighborhood to neighborhood, with drastic differences even in neighborhoods that border each other.

Nearly 2,000 people in Arkansas die from strokes every year in Arkansas, leading the nation in stroke deaths per capita. The majority those who die from strokes in Arkansas and across the country are African-American, but the study led by Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan found race wasn't really a factor.

"To our surprise, neighborhood poverty level and low educational attainment played a bigger role than race itself," said Balamurugan. "Race accounted for less than two percent of the difference."

Balamurugan said regardless of being black or white, if you live in poverty and have a low educational level, your risk of dying from stroke is very high.

The UAMS/ADH study looked at stroke risks on a hyper-local level using Census "block groups" to analyze data, narrowing research from a regional approach to one that looks to see if there's a difference even within regions.

What the study found was that specific areas across Arkansas have a higher occurrence of stroke death. Just in Little Rock, neighborhoods that are separated by just a highway see a difference in their rate of stroke death.

"South of I-630 or east of I-30 towards College Station and toward the airport you risk is as high as four times higher," said Balamurugan, comparing to neighborhoods north and west of I-630.

North and west of I-630, Balamurugan says there are greater rates of higher education, less poverty and access to healthier food choices.

"If you think about it, ultimately it drives the choices people make, either with their diet or with their physical activity," said Balamurugan.

Poor diet and physical activity, claims Balamurugan, can lead to high cholesterol, hypertension and smoking; all leading factors when it comes to suffering a stroke.

"Our resources are finite," said Balamurugan regarding public health funding. "If we want to use of finite resources to have a good stroke death prevention we have to be frugal."

Researchers along with Balamurugan hope their study will help point out the necessity of concentrating public healthcare resources in high stroke areas, hoping to eventually drive down Arkansas's deadly stroke statistic.

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