People who live within 500 metres of one or more fast food outlets are more likely to end up with heart disease, according to a new study.

Proximity to fast food outlets has been linked to the development of heart disease in a research paper published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology on Wednesday.

“We know from previous research that the type of food available to purchase where people live influences their food choices,” said lead author Dr Maartje Poelman at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

“Our study suggests that city dwellers living within one kilometre of fast food outlets eat more fast food, which increases their risk of coronary heart disease.”

The number of fast food outlets has increased over the past several decades, selling food that is high in salt, saturated fat and calories.

With these types of foods associated with cardiovascular disease, researchers at the Global Geo Health Data Centre at Utrecht University examined whether individuals living close to a higher number of fast food outlets also had a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study included more than 2,000,000 adults aged 35 years who had been living at the same address for at least 15 years.

Participants were followed for one year for the incidence of cardiovascular disease. The researchers counted the number of fast food outlets that could be reached by road within 500m, 1km, and 3km of each participant’s home.

The findings showed individuals had an approximately 13 per cent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease in 2009 if they lived within 500m of two fast food outlets compared to none.

The incidence of coronary heart disease was roughly 17 per cent greater among those who lived within 1km of five or more fast food outlets compared to none.

Dr Poelman says its important public health policies start to reflect the influence of the food environment on health, supporting a recent suggestion by the Mayor of London to ban new ‘hot food takeaways’ around schools.

“We need to create healthier environments to prevent heart disease and banning fast food outlets, or regulating a maximum number, is one piece of the puzzle,” said Dr Poelman.

“Other elements include improving the availability of fresh and healthy food to buy. We can stimulate people to buy healthy food if we create an environment where it is the default choice.”