UK: 40 deaths a year – what for?

According to official figures, 40000 Britons die prematurely every year due to high levels of salt and fat in their diet.

The National Institutes of Health states that “unhealthy foods are causing irreparable harm to the health of the nation.”

For the first time ever, official basic guidance has been published to prevent “the vast number of premature deaths” from diseases such as heart disease that are linked to the consumption of prepared meals and processed foods.

It calls for radical changes in food production at the level of public policy designed to stimulate lifestyle changes, as well as significantly reduce the amount of salt and saturated fat consumed nationally.

It states that toxic artificial fats known as trans fats, which have no nutritional value and have been linked to heart disease, should be banned. The organization says ministers should consider introducing appropriate legislation if food manufacturers fail to make their products healthier.

It also says it has gathered all available evidence to illustrate the link between unhealthy food and health problems, partly in response to growing concerns about rising obesity in the UK, especially among children.

It is also emphasized that about five million people in the country suffer from cardiovascular diseases. The conditions, which include heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, cause 150 deaths a year. Moreover, 000 of these deaths could have been prevented if appropriate measures had been introduced.

The guidance, commissioned by the Ministry of Health, also recommends:

• Low-salt, low-fat foods should be sold cheaper than their unhealthy counterparts, with subsidies where necessary.

• Advertising of unhealthy food should be banned before 9pm and laws should be used to limit the number of fast food outlets, especially near schools.

• The Common Agricultural Policy should pay more attention to the health of the population, providing benefits to farmers who produce healthy food.

• Appropriate food labeling should be legislated, although the European Parliament recently voted against it.

• Local governments should encourage walking and cycling, and the food service sector should ensure that healthy meals are available.

• All lobbying schemes by government agencies for the interests of the food and beverage industry must be fully disclosed.

Professor Clim MacPherson, Chair of the Development Group and Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said: “When it comes to food, we want healthy choices to be easy choices. We also want healthy choices to be less expensive and more attractive.”

“Simply put, this guidance can help the government and the food industry take action to prevent the vast number of premature deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke. The average person in the UK consumes over eight grams of salt per day. The body requires only one gram to function properly. Targets have already been set to reduce salt intake to six grams by 2015 and to three grams by 2050,” the recommendation says.

The recommendation noted that children should consume significantly less salt than adults, and since most of the salt in the diet comes from cooked foods such as bread, oatmeal, meat and cheese products, manufacturers should play a critical role in reducing the salt content in products.

The organization says that most consumers won’t even notice the difference in taste if the salt content is reduced by 5-10 percent per year because their taste buds will adjust.

Professor Mike Kelly added: “It’s not that I advise people to choose a salad over chips, I’m sure we all like to snack on chips sometimes, but that the chips should be as healthy as possible. This means that we need to further reduce the amount of salt, trans fats and saturated fats in the food we eat every day.”

Betty McBride, director of policy and communications at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Creating an environment where healthy choices can be made easily is vital. Government, healthcare, industry and individuals all have a role to play. We need to see that the industry is taking serious action to reduce the amount of saturated fat in foods. Reducing fat intake will have a big impact on heart health.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmour, President of the Royal College of Physicians, added: “The Board has reached its final verdict, so we must radically change our approach to this dreadful covert killer.”

While the guidance has been welcomed by health experts, the food and beverage industries are only increasing the salt and fat content of their products.

Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation, said: “We are surprised that time and money are being spent developing guidelines like this that seem to be out of touch with the reality of what has been happening over the years.”  


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