Poverty Increases Death Risk After Heart Attack

Study finds those in poorest neighborhoods face 30% greater chance of mortality

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THURSDAY, Nov. 13, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- People who live in low-income neighborhoods have a greater risk of death after suffering a heart attack.

That finding comes in a Harvard University School of Public Health study presented this week at the American Heart Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

"Patients living in neighborhoods with a high percentage of residents living below the poverty line had a death rate after heart attack 30 percent higher than those in the wealthiest neighborhoods," study author Cathryn Tonne, a doctoral candidate in environmental epidemiology, says in a prepared statement.

In 1999, the poverty threshold for an American family of four was $17,029 a year.

Tonne and her colleagues studied 2,539 confirmed heart attack cases among residents of Worcester, Mass., in 1995, 1997 and 1999. The heart attack patients were divided into five income levels. The study found the death rate after heart attack was higher for the 20 percent of heart attack patients living in the poorest neighborhoods.

A lack of local health clinics and low-cost healthy foods, along with inadequate public space for physical activity, may be among the factors that contribute to this higher risk of death among heart attack patients who live in poverty, Tonne says.

"The precise pathways by which poverty at the neighborhood level affects survival have not yet been identified, but residents of deprived neighborhoods may be of poorer overall health and experience more psychosocial factors like stress, social isolation and depression," Tonne says.

"The relationship between poor survival after heart attack and neighborhood poverty may also be due in part to exposure to traffic-related pollutants, housing conditions and other aspects of the physical environment," she says.

Gaining a better understanding of these factors may help health officials design programs to counter poverty's effects on heart attack patients, she adds.

More information

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SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 11, 2003

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