"This is not an indictment of the fast food industry by any means," Morgenstern said. "The real message is that with this research, you can identify neighborhoods that can be targeted for intervention."
Regardless, the National Restaurant Association bristled at the implications of the research, calling it "misleading."
"This article is seriously flawed, and by its own admission shows no correlation whatsoever between dining at chain restaurants and incidence of stroke," said National Restaurant Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs Beth Johnson in a statement issued today. "Further, it tells us nothing about the eating and exercise habits of the individuals involved."
"If this is related to fast food consumption, many fast food restaurants have already taken steps to publish at the restaurants the nutritional content of their foods. Studies have shows that people make better choices of food simply when the restaurants publish the information on their burgers and other things," Johnson said.
In her statement, Johnson noted that the restaurant industry is offering a growing number of healthier menu options. She added that many restaurants are also providing more nutrition information to consumers -- a move Morgenstern called "a step in the right direction."
"Most of the big [fast food joints] -- they all offer salads, they offer fruit parfaits," Ayoob agreed. "They're not giving the food away, nor are they sitting on your shoulders and forcing it down your mouth."
But Katz said that fast food restaurants may have more to answer for in light of this new data. He noted as an example the fact that African-Americans by ethnicity alone tend to have a higher risk for hypertension.
"African-American neighborhoods tend to have a lot more fast food restaurants," he said, adding that one major fast food chain in particular "has a targeted advertisement campaign at the African-American community."
Lauren Cox contributed to this report.