Study shows food cost, accessibility major barriers for heart health

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CLEVELAND — February marks American Heart Health Month.

It’s a time where health officials are encouraging everyone to prioritize their overall well-being and focus on heart health. Research shows heart disease is the number one killer for men and women.

The Cleveland Clinic just released its annual national heart survey to kick off Heart Month. The survey results show overall, food cost and access to healthy foods are some of the largest issues for participants.

Doctors also say there is still confusion amongst participants over what is considered healthy and how to eat right.

Getting exercise and eating better are always a top priority, but we all know it’s not easy. The Cleveland Clinic survey results show many are still struggling to adapt.

The health system pulled 1,000 adults from across the country and picked their brains over heart health.

It showed nearly half of Americans surveyed are struggling with the surging grocery costs, and 46% believe healthy food being more expensive is the biggest barrier to eating healthy.

Not having enough time to prep meals or knowing how to cook were also contributing factors.

“We all see it really now with the prices being hiked at our grocery stores for things like apples and oranges, you know, foods that we really never thought to be so expensive,” said Dr. Tamanna Singh, Co-Director of Sports Cardiology Center at the Cleveland Clinic.

Singh said to best stretch your dollar, shop around for discounts and think outside of the pricier produce aisle.

“Maybe utilize things like frozen foods or canned foods that are unsalted, things that perhaps are more shelf-friendly. I want to say we can still try to create healthy meals,” Singh said.

The survey also revealed roughly 20% of Black Americans say it is hard for them to access stores that sell healthy food compared to 15% of white Americans.

Food deserts and a lack of grocery stores continue to be such a large issue in underserved communities that the Cleveland Clinic broke ground on a $52.8 million grocery market and apartment complex in the Fairfax neighborhood back in 2021.

The problem remains persistent nationwide.

“I think we actually have to be more intentional about putting those areas, providing access in those neighborhoods,” Singh said.

Fast food and meals-on-the-go also were a huge talking point.

Ten percent of Americans chose a fast-food diet as the most heart-healthy diet, and 71% of Americans polled, believed that moderate exercise had a greater impact on losing weight than diet.

Singh says the key to overall wellness involves a variety of exercises and eating right.

She says it’s important to not overcomplicate the process.

“Just be intentional and focus on quality of nutrition and quality of exercise. And if you start to be consistent about what you’re putting into your body, really, again, you know, shopping the periphery of the grocery store, looking for those whole foods as unprocessed foods, that actually gives you a lot of energy to then put into exercise,” Singh said.

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Singh also says one of the best diets for your heart is the Mediterranean Diet. It’s a mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and oils. It includes cutting out red meat and eating less chicken and sweets.

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