Food deserts and especially Food Swamps Tied to High Breast Cancer Mortality
Medscape Medical News reports that living in food deserts and food swamps — areas with little to no access to healthy food, and areas with abundant access to unhealthy food options — may raise the risk of dying from postmenopausal breast cancer. This was the finding in a novel “ecological study,” whose results were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) in 2023. Malcolm Bevel, PhD, MSPH, with Augusta University in Georgia, noted that food deserts and food swamps are both bad, “but it’s worse in food swamps.” He said residing in food deserts or food swamps reduces access to healthy foods, and this often contributes to obesity, which is associated with breast cancer risk. The study involved doing a cross-sectional, ecological analysis where researchers merged 2010 to 2020 postmenopausal breast cancer mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with aggregated 2012 to 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas. Food swamp and food desert scores were calculated as the ratio of fast-food and convenience stores (sources of unhealthy food) to grocery stores and farmer’s markets (sources of generally more nutritious food) and also considered the physical distance between residents and such food sources. Where there were fewer sources of healthy foods conveniently located, breast cancer mortality rates were higher — as much as 53% higher in food desert areas and up to more than two-fold higher in areas of high concentration of food swamps. The findings were said to be in line with another study by Bevel and his colleagues published earlier in 2023 in JAMA Oncology. In that study, communities with easy access to fast food were 77% more likely to have high levels of obesity-related breast cancer mortality. Bevel said there is a growing epidemic of food deserts and food swamps in the U.S., and the study demonstrates how the food environment impacts postmenopausal women when it comes to breast cancer risk.