Neighborhood location and nutritional resources as a risk factor for congenital heart disease in the fetus

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Birth defects research




congenital heart disease; food desert; maternal health; nutrition


BACKGROUND: Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect, influenced by maternal health, environmental conditions, and genetics. Maternal health and nutrition, particularly maternal diabetes, is a modifiable risk factor for development of CHD in the fetus. However, the importance of food access during pregnancy on the development of CHD remains unknown. The objective of this study was to investigate the association between maternal neighborhood characteristics, particularly food access, and occurrence of prenatally diagnosed CHD. METHODS: A retrospective case series studied maternal-fetal dyads with prenatally diagnosed CHD between 2019 and 2021 in Washington, DC. Moran's I of maternal addresses evaluated geographic clustering of disease. Negative binomial regression assessed association between census tract demographics and population-adjusted CHD rate. RESULTS: A total of 307 dyads were analyzed. Global Moran's I showed significant CHD clustering (p-value = .004). However, degree of clustering was not clinically meaningful. After adjusting for neighborhood socioeconomic status, residing in food deserts was not a predictor for CHD. However, neighborhoods with a higher percentage of households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were associated with higher rates of conotruncal heart defects (Incident Rate Ratio [IRR] = 1.04, CI = 1.01-1.08) and aggregate CHD (IRR = 1.03, CI = 1.01-1.05). CONCLUSIONS: Neighborhood location and food access were not associated with CHD. However, increased enrollment in SNAP was associated with higher rates of CHD. The association between CHD and SNAP benefits warrants further exploration. Understanding food access and maternal nutrition may illuminate disparities in the burden of CHD.