Writing in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the researchers argue that of the 1.8 million premature deaths caused by cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Europe per year the ‘majority’ are preventable.
“Societal changes and commercial influences have led to the present unhealthy environment, in which default option in lifestyle increases CVD risk,” say the researchers, led by Professor Simon Capewell from the University of Liverpool, UK.
“A challenge for both central and local authorities is, therefore, to ensure healthier defaults,” they argue.
Deaths could be avoided
The position paper claims that up to 50% of deaths from cardiovascular disease in Europe could be avoided by implementing population level changes such as taxation and regulation of advertising.
The report argues that healthy dietary habits should be supported by changes in agricultural policies, including taxes on products with free sugar and saturated fat, alongside subsidies for fruit and vegetables, and the reduction of salt and trans-fatty acids in processed foods.
In addition, the paper calls for clear labelling of foods, and a limit on advertising for ‘junk food’.
The new position paper aims “to assist authorities in selecting the most adequate management strategies to prevent CVD,” according to the authors, who add that they reviewed and summarised the published evidence on all the major modifiable CVD risk factors – food, physical inactivity, smoking, and alcohol – before publishing the paper.
The paper recommends population-based interventions from local and national governments aimed at unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol.
Capewell and his colleagues argue that population-based preventive strategies that focus on fiscal measures (such as taxation), national and regional policies (such as smoke-free legislation), and environmental changes (like reducing the availability of alcohol), could all help to slash the risk of heart disease.
Food a complex area
“Food is a complex area, but several strategies can be effective in increasing fruit and vegetables and lowering intake of salt, saturated fat, trans-fats, and free sugars,” they say.
”Opponents allege that the ‘nanny state’ hinders the free choice of people, but the fact is that people today are nudged in the wrong direction by corporations’ de facto setting of the default option,” argue the researchers, who noted that the ‘default’ is the option that requires people to do nothing.
They say that responsibility for structural changes at population level rests with politicians, administrative authorities and health professionals at international, national and local levels.
“Much of the nanny state is manipulated by industry which leads to the nanny state generating very cheap junk food through subsidies at Common Agricultural Policy level, and an environment with advertisng and marketing seducing us to buy junk food and sweet drinks. In this case the nanny state is malignant rather than benign and we’re looking to government to redress the balance,” said Capewell.