Study Indicts ‘Stroke Belt’

Those born in the Southeast may be more likely to die of a stroke even after moving out of the appropriately named “Stroke Belt” region, a Harvard School of Public Health professor reported Tuesday.

The findings, published in the journal “Neurology,” suggest that residents of the Southeastern states are 20 to 50 percent more likely to die of strokes than those living in the rest of the country.

Former inhabitants of the region also face a higher risk than those who have never lived in the South, regardless of race, the study found. White former residents are 20 percent more likely and black former residents are 9 percent more likely to suffer stroke-related deaths.

School of Public Health professor M. Maria Glymour and her team analyzed stroke deaths from 1980, 1990 and 2000 using census data and mortality records across the United States and concluded that geography, not genetics, is likely the driving factor for higher stroke mortality.

“Our best thinking currently is that it is not genetic, and it is probably a risk factor that influences the whole broad population: rich and poor, black and white,” Glymour said in an e-mailed statement.

Though researchers are unable to fully explain the “Stroke Belt” phenomenon at this point, Glymour offered possible explanations such as social norms influencing dietary patterns, quality of public resources, and other environmental conditions.

The “Stroke Belt” is generally used to refer to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The study aims to look at a person’s entire life and identify possible risk areas, Glymour said.

“We often think of stroke prevention as something that starts in middle or old age,” Glymour said, “but this is like waiting until your ship is half full of water before you start bailing it out.”

Arkansas resident Kathryn C. Stephens ’13 said she was not completely surprised by the Harvard study’s conclusions.

“Eating habits in the South are worse than in other areas, and fried foods are part of the culture,” Stephens said. She added that she would not move away from the “Stroke Belt” region, citing Arkansas’ beauty and friendly people.

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