Eating less salt and fat could save more than 1,000 heart deaths
Government urged to introduce food policies to ban trans fat and reduce salt in processed foods
One in four deaths from heart disease or stroke could be prevented each year if everyone in Ireland cut their salt and fat intake and consumed three or more portions of fruit and veg per day, according to new evidence.
The study shows that 1,070 deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke could be prevented every year if the entire population reduced salt intake by 3g a day, reduced trans fat by 1 per cent of energy intake and saturated fat by 3 per cent of energy intake, and added three additional portions of fruit and vegetables to their diet every day.
The Health Research Board (HRB) Centre for Diet and Health carried out the Health Research Board-funded study using a mathematical model to synthesise the vast amount of research that has been carried out on diet and health in recent decades and to predict the impact of population-level changes in dietary intake on CHD and stroke deaths.
Ivan Perry, the head of the HRB Centre for Diet and Health and professor of epidemiology and public health at University College Cork (UCC), says there are significant opportunities for the Government and industry to address this mortality by introducing effective, evidence-based food policies such as making fruit and vegetables more affordable and working with the food industry to reduce salt in processed foods.
“Our study provides valuable evidence on the impact of population-level changes in dietary intake.
Achieving a modest improvement could save 395 lives each year. Doing nothing or simply monitoring the situation could result in dire public health consequences for the Irish population, both in the short and the long term,” he says.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 80 per cent of premature CHD and stroke deaths could be prevented, and that even small reductions in incidence and mortality would lead to large population health gains and reductions in direct and indirect health costs.
In Ireland alone, CHD deaths fell by 50 per cent between 1985 and 2006 as a result of population health measures in relation to smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol combined with improvements in treatment.
Perry explains that changes in food policy are needed to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.
“We should continue to work with industry to reduce the amount of salt that is being added to bread, processed ham and breakfast cereals.
“We know that gradually taking salt out of the food chain is the most efficient way to reduce salt intake as 80 per cent of the salt we eat is already in our food when we buy it.”
Pointing out that some countries had moved to ban trans fats completely, which are found in many fast and snack foods and cheap confectionery, and take them out of the food chain, Perry suggests this is the way Ireland should be going.
He points out that there is plenty of evidence that trans fats increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and they are there only for the convenience of food producers.
The work of the HRB Centre for Diet and Health involves co-principal investigators from UCC, University College Dublin, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, Teagasc and the University of Ulster.
Obesity and Behaviour Change is the topic of the sixth annual seminar of the Nutrition and Health Foundation which takes place in Dublin on Thursday, September 12th. The free event will be addressed by Robin Schepper, the first executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
For all queries on the event, please contact the event organiser, Adrienne McDonnell, tel: 01 605 1677.