Most things are harder if you’re unable to earn a living wage. And now a new study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that maintaining a healthy heart may be harder for poor folks, too. A group of Italian researchers studied the cardiovascular benefits of the popular Mediterranean diet, which involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables as well as fish, poultry, olive oil, and whole grains with limited consumption of red meat and butter. And while they found that adhering to the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease by 15 percent, that benefit was only observed in study participants who earned more than €40,000, or about $46,000, per year. It is the first study to show a link between the health benefits of the diet and socioeconomic status.
The study’s researchers suggest that the difference in outcomes is related to access to and education about healthy foods. Participants with higher incomes and levels of educational attainment not only had access to more, high-quality produce options and organic foods, they were also better informed when it came to choosing amongst those foods. “These results support the need to adopt more effective strategies aiming to reduce socioeconomic disparities in health,” wrote the authors in the study’s conclusion. “Not only by promoting the adoption of healthy eating patterns but also by facilitating access to foods with higher nutritional values likely associated with improved health outcomes.”