The UK Department of Health’s Food Matter document, published in 2008, estimated that around 70,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer could be avoided by people sticking to dietary advice. Current UK advice is that adults limit salt intake to 6g a day and saturated fat intake to 11 per cent of daily energy.
The new figure on premature deaths has been worked out using a modelling system, after researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Liverpool, and the NHS, said the methods for reaching the Food Matters estimate were not transparent.
They concluded that the five-a-day target would have the biggest impact, saving around 15,000 lives overall.
But reducing salt intake to 3.5g a day, and saturated fat to just 3 per cent of energy intake, would bring equivalent benefits, they said – both considerably lower than current advice.
The Department of Health, which took over matters relating to nutrition and public health from the Food Standards Agency in October, did not respond to an enquiry about how realistic such reductions could be, or whether existing advice may be reviewed in the future.
A new model
The researchers developed a model dubbed the DIETRON, which they describe as “robust”. This linked consumption of food components with biological risk factors – blood pressure, serum cholesterol levels, and obesity – and subsequent mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.
It was build using meta-analyses of individual level studies that quantified the risk reduction of increased consumption/increased risk factor level on disease outcomes. It was demonstrated using country-specific estimates of current nutrient intake, compared to UK dietary recommendations.
The UK food industry has been operating to a mandate to reduce salt and saturated fat levels in packaged and prepared foods for several years, with targets set by the Food Standards Agency for various food categories. [Nutrition and public health is no longer within the FSA’s remit, however, but the Department of Health].
Moreover, the five-a-day campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, kicked off by the FSA in 2002, has helped raise awareness of the long-term health benefits.
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2010)
Modelling the impact of a healthy diet on cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality
Authors: Scarborough P, Nnoaham KE, Clarke D, et al.