POOR families are more likely to suffer from heart attacks – even if they stick to a healthy diet, according to new research.

The study suggests the chances of getting cardiovascular disease is higher in people with low income or who live in low income neighbourhoods, even if they have access to healthy food.

The study focused on the effects of income, education and socioeconomic status on healthy people living in what researchers call “urban food deserts” in the Atlanta area of the United States.

A “food desert” is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a location with both low access to healthy food and low income.

Areas with low access to healthy foods are defined as areas where a significant share of people live a mile or more away in urban areas or 10 miles or more away in rural areas from a supermarket or large grocery store.

People living in food deserts in low income areas had no significant difference in the studied markers for heart disease compared to people living in areas with low income and good food access.

But those with high individual income who lived in low income areas had lower cardiovascular risk and inflammation compared to people with lower individual income who lived in a similar area.

Researchers found those with high individual income who lived in an area with poor food access had a better cardiovascular health than those with lower individual income who lived in similar area.

Overall, personal income appeared to be the most important driver of cardiovascular disease risk, scientists say.

Study senior author Professor Arshed Quyyumi, of Emory University School of Medicine in the United States, said: “This study shows that low personal income and low socioeconomic status matter when it comes to cardiovascular disease risk.

“Physicians need to be aware that these social determinants increase disease risk and that perhaps more attention needs to be paid to patients who fall into this category.”

The findings were published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.