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Distance From Healthy Food Sources Increases Risk Of Anemia In Lower-Income, Pregnant Women

Study Analyzes Role of “Walking Distance” to Healthy Foods and Increased Risk of Anemia

NEW YORK (May 6, 2013) – Lower income, urban women may be at increased risk for anemia during pregnancy if they live more than .25 miles, considered a “walking distance,” from a healthy food source, according to a new study by researchers at Montefiore Medical Center. This study was presented today at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ 61st Annual Clinical Meeting (ACM) in New Orleans.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces more blood to support the baby’s growth. If a pregnant woman is not getting enough iron or other nutrients from a healthy diet, her body might not be able to produce the amount of red blood cells needed to make the additional blood. When this occurs, patients are at an increased risk of anemia which means there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen within the body.

In this study, the risk of anemia was found to be affected by distance, particularly for low income, urban women possibly because these women have fewer alternate ways to access healthy food sources. These data found patients with low socio-economic status, defined as receiving insurance coverage through Medicaid or being uninsured, living less than .25 miles from a store carrying healthy foods were less likely to be anemic compared to those who lived farther away. When adjusted for other factors, the statistical significance decreased somewhat but the same results were still seen.

“Many communities, like the Bronx where this study was conducted, are what we call ‘food deserts’ because there are so few healthy food options. These data prove the importance of addressing this serious health issue, especially for pregnant women,” said Eve (Chavi) Karkowsky, M.D., Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health,
Montefiore Medical Center, and assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. “It is our hope that these data will prompt action in these communities so healthy options can be made available to pregnant women as well as all people living in these areas. We’re facing serious health issues like obesity and diabetes and the availability of healthy foods makes a difference.”

This retrospective study analyzed medical records of 4,843 obstetric patients in 2010. The patients live in the Bronx, N.Y., one of the poorest socioeconomic counties in the country, and received treatment at Montefiore Medical Center.

In addition to Dr. Karkowsky, the research team from Montefiore Medical Center included Cynthia Chazotte, M.D., Danielle Bottalico, B.S., and Glen Johnson, Ph.D.