Tighter UK Food Policies Could Slash CV Deaths by 30,000

July 06, 2012

July 5, 2012 (Liverpool, United Kingdom) — Stricter government dietary policies banning the use of industrial trans fats and aiming to further reduce salt and saturated-fat content of foods while encouraging greater fruit and vegetable consumption could prevent 30 000 cardiovascular deaths a year in the UK, say epidemiologists [1].

While individuals can make choices to improve their diet, stricter government policies can have a more rapid and significant effect on the health of an entire nation, say Dr Martin O'Flaherty (University of Liverpool, UK) and colleagues in their paper in the July 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Although the UK has made "modest" dietary improvements over the past decade, the current goals are "clearly insufficient longer term," they note, adding: "Both adults and children deserve better protection from the detrimental effects of cheap junk food and sugary drinks."

And the UK can learn from other countries that have already introduced healthier policies, such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the researchers write. A "simple first step could be to eliminate industrial trans fats," as has been done in Denmark, which banned them in 2004. Other countries--Austria, Canada, Iceland, and Switzerland--as well as several US states are aggressively working to eliminate trans fats too, say O'Flaherty et al.

And while they acknowledge that agreements have been made in the UK--for example, between the government and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and industry to reduce the amount of sodium in foods--there is much room for improvement. "Cozy voluntary agreements with the processed-food industry generally fail, much like tobacco policies in previous decades," they observe. "Further improvements resembling those attained by other countries are achievable through stricter dietary policies." However, this will require additional regulatory, legislative, and fiscal initiatives, such as those recommended by UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the WHO, the World Bank, and the United Nations, they stress.

In their paper, O'Flaherty et al modeled the effects of specific dietary changes on cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality using data obtained from recent meta-analyses. Potential reductions in CVD mortality between 2006 and 2015 were estimated for two scenarios: modest improvements--simply assuming recent trends will continue until 2015; and more substantial but feasible reductions (already seen in several countries) in saturated fats, trans fats, and salt consumption, together with increased fruit and vegetable intake.

The first scenario will result in approximately 12 500 fewer CVD deaths per year: 4800 less from coronary heart disease and 1800 from stroke among men and 3500 less from CHD and 2400 fewer stroke deaths among women. But the more aggressive improvements could save many more lives, ranging from 13 300 to 74 900 fewer CVD deaths per year (average 30 000), they estimate.

Senior author Dr Simon Capewell (University of Liverpool, UK) was the vice chair of the NICE Programme Development Group on CVD prevention in populations (2009–2010) and is a member of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) prevention and care committee.

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