People born in the South have a higher risk of dying from stroke as adults, compared to people who were born in other parts of the country.
For the study, researchers examined information from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 U.S. national death records for people ages 30 to 80 years old who were born and lived in 49 U.S. states. Stroke death rates were calculated by linking this information to U.S. census information. The stroke belt was defined as seven states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.
The study looked at four groups of people: those who were born and lived in the stroke belt, people born in the stroke belt but moved away as adults, those born outside the stroke belt but lived there as adults and those who were not born or lived in the stroke belt.
The study found that both Caucasians and African Americans who were born in the stroke belt and then moved away had a higher risk of death caused by stroke than those who were born outside the region and still lived outside the region as adults. The same was true with those who were born elsewhere but later moved to the stroke belt. At the highest risk were those who were both born in the stroke belt and lived there as adults.
The rate of death related to stroke was 74 per 100,000 for people who were born in the stroke belt and lived there in the year 2000, but only 47 per 100,000 for people who were neither born in the stroke belt nor lived there in the year 2000, although this inequality partially reflects differences in age and race.
“Our results cannot pinpoint a specific explanation, but they are consistent with other research suggesting that the roots of stroke risk begin in childhood or even infancy. Efforts to reduce the incidence of fatal stroke may need to consider how underlying physiologic changes accumulate from early life. It is possible that where one lives affects stroke risk through socioeconomic conditions, social stressors, environmental factors, or access to preventive medical care,” study author M. Maria Glymour, ScD, with Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a news release.