English-style diet 'could save 4,000' in rest of UK

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Eating like the English could save 4,000 lives a year in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a study claims.

People in England eat more fruit and vegetables and less salt and fat, reducing heart disease and some cancers, say Oxford University experts.

A tax on fatty and salty foods and subsidies on fruit and vegetables could help close the diet divide, they add.

The British Heart Foundation says the study shows inequalities in the nations that must be addressed by authorities.

Death rates for heart disease and cancer are higher in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than in England, according to official figures.

Start Quote

This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments ”

End Quote Victoria Taylor Senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation

Diet is known to be an important factor. Last year researchers estimated that more than 30,000 lives a year would be saved if everyone in the UK followed dietary guidelines on fat, salt, fibre, and fruit and vegetables.

Now, the same experts - from the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford - have turned their attention to differences within the UK.

They looked at whether deaths from heart disease, stroke and 10 cancers linked with poor diet could be prevented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, if everyone switched to the typical English diet.

They say the diet in England is far from perfect - but should be achievable in other UK countries.

Over the three years studied there were nearly 22,000 excess deaths in total. Scotland had 15,719, Wales 3,723 and Northern Ireland 2,329.

Hamburger tax

Lead researcher Dr Peter Scarborough of the Health Promotion Research Group said: "The chief dietary factor that is driving this mortality gap is fruit and vegetables.

The data

  • The researchers looked at deaths from heart disease, stroke and 10 cancers in all four UK countries from 2007 to 2009
  • They estimated calorie intake and 10 components in the diet - including fruit and veg intake, fat, and salt - in all four UK countries
  • The data showed people in Scotland and Northern Ireland ate more saturated fat and salt, and fewer fruit and vegetables, every day than people in England, while differences between England and Wales were smaller
  • Over the three years studied there were nearly 22,000 excess deaths in total. Scotland had 15,719, Wales 3,723 and Northern Ireland 2,329
  • Changing the diet to a typical English one would save about 11,000 of these lives - or just under 4,000 a year - with the biggest impact in Wales and Northern Ireland

"Consumption of fruit and vegetables in Scotland is around 12% lower than in England, and consumption in Northern Ireland is about 20% lower than in England. Consumption levels in Wales are similar.

"Other important factors are salt and saturated fat consumption, which are lower in England than in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland."

The researchers believe one way to tackle the "mortality gap" is to bring in food taxes.

Denmark recently introduced a tax on foods high in saturated fat, while other countries are toying with the idea of taxing fizzy drinks or high-calorie foods.

Dr Scarborough told the BBC that while the study did not consider the effectiveness of policies and interventions, the area should be investigated.

He said: "Junk food taxes and subsidies of fruit and veg could be a very important tool in addressing health inequalities in the UK."

Comments from around the UK

  • Northern Ireland: Spokesperson for the Department of Health, Social Security and Public Safety: "Hopefully this research helps get the message out to the general public that we have to take responsibility for our own health and that our diet has a real impact on the quality and longevity of our lives."
  • Wales: A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Our efforts remain focused on educating people about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and sensible drinking in an effort to reduce obesity and therefore the risk of heart disease, and we have a number of initiatives already in place, such as Change4Life and the MEND and food co-op programmes, aimed at addressing these issues."
  • Scotland: A Scottish government spokesperson said: "Overall, Scotland's cancer mortality rates are decreasing - down almost 12% over the past 10 years - and through our Heart Disease and Stroke Care Action Plan, we are continuing to work to reduce the number of Scots dying from these preventable conditions.

The researchers say they used the English diet as their model not because it is particularly healthy, but because it is regarded as an achievable goal.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments about how healthy our traditional dishes might be.

"This is a useful exercise in comparing influential differences in diet across the UK, namely calorie intake and fruit and veg consumption. However, saying the rest of the UK should follow England's lead to cut heart deaths isn't a foolproof solution; a quarter of English adults are obese and only 30% eat their five-a-day.

"The findings have thrown up some clear inequalities in the four nations and our governments must do everything they can to create environments that help people make healthy choices."

The research is published in the medical journal BMJ Open.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    anotherfakename Perhaps you could provide a map of all these "markets".
    There's no choice for town and city dwellers to choose what you've advised - they don't exist, only the major supermarkets.
    Joining the real world before you post silly comments might be something to consider.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Why don,t they just make healthy food...fruit and veg cheaper then more people might buy it .

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    There, you have it. . . ENGLISH DIETS is best for you.

    In the news today, someone ask:... where did the first human in England come from??

    My pal was first off the mark saying:. . "they crawled in from under the ocean"....

    He cannot be right, can he ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    doctor bob
    Great. You won't find many fat Indians

    You might want to read the story from a few days ago about the huge problems with obesity and diabetes in India!

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    I love english food, it is proper for any age group. But being asian the way we grew up and had our eating habbit it is to hard to swap diet. Because taste buds has got the taste of oily and spicy foods. Even veg dishes are same. Though there is no loss in trying hard if this helps someone to live long.
    But will this effort encourage school going teens to abandon their favourite unhealthy foods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Why the obsession with trying to make everyone live longer - the way the world is headed, drinking, smoking and eating yourself to death sounds like a sensible option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    What the diet of cuts, cuts, cuts and a sprinkling of BS thrown in ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    A 'fat tax' would be hugely regressive and hence unpopular, hitting those on low-incomes hardest. Public opinion seems to favour punishing fat *people* through taxes and laws, but the myriad complex causes of 'obesity' make this unfair and the costs of implementation / enforcement would be huge. Perhaps Drs should just come to terms with the fact that 'choice' or not, we come in all sizes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Patronising, smug comments from people who think they are papagons of virtue and never smoke, overeat, and drink too much are frankly racist, fattest bigots . Smokers, fat people, thin people, old people, young people, sexually active people, Scottish people, Welsh , homosexuals, etc etc pay taxes and are entitled to equality in treatment end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    I HATE the tone of this, it's so DIVISIVE. English, Scottish, we all shop at the same places. Life expectancy in Manchester, Liverpool,Salford and Bolton, to cite just a few, is LOWER than Scotland. Shut up Victoria Taylor, you should be saying it's about POVERTY and IGNORANCE. Eat Crap = Die Younger. You should be telling people what the CRAP is, not espousing a fictional 'English diet'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    @Lorna- What we Scots choose to spend our allowance on is entirely up to us.
    Anyway, as for the diet question, as the article rightly says our eating habits in the whole of the UK are awful but taxing people is a knee jerk reaction. Go to a supermarket and all the 2-4-1 offers are on chocolate, crisps and junk food. Make the supermarkets reverse this and have cheaper healthy alternatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    The title of the article is misleading; I would say that generally people in England have avoided some bad health in recent years by trying to incorporate other diets (e.g. Mediterranean) into their own - not by necessary following a quintissentially 'English' diet as is suggested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Everything in moderation I say. That includes Government advice and statistics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    The "experts" obsession with mortality rates is futile and eventually meaningless for all of us. They would be well advised to talk about quality of life - for instance an unfit, obese person is more likely to have motility problems as they grow older, which will seriously diminish their quality of life, unless, of course, they are happy couch potatoes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    @ 136 You are lucky that you have a market that you can go to then as there is not 2 many of them up in Scotland unless u live in the more rural areas, also not all of us have cars and have to rely on public transport and try humping 5-6 bags of groceries around and getting a bus still i suppose you dont need to eat healthy when you have to carry 5-6 bags of groceries around all the time

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Why take it personally, this study is merely stating facts. You might not like them, but they remain.
    It states clearly that on AVERAGE, people who live in England consume 12% more vegetables than people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (the author clearly says the English diet isn't ideal) and they live longer. Nothing more! Maybe stress and a massive chip(s) or killing you too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Diet is probably a crucial factor in health and lifespan, after all it's the fuel for the body. And it would appear that natural food, or food as nature intended, is a better option to processed foods, like junk foods, that are not as nature intended. And junk does not always equate with cheap, just the speed it is available for you to consume via the microwave etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    If they want to kill themselves early, good for them - it'll free up resources for more deserving people.

    Just as long as they don't come crawling to the NHS to fix their problems due to their life choices.

    Would you excuse them from paying taxes used to fund the NHS? Or they should just pay for you with your 'perfect' lifestyle?

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Turning the argument around, who wants to live to 95 with dementia? My wife and I are struggling to look after her parents both of whom have this terrible disease and dropping dead with a heart attack at 80 seems eminently preferable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    In sensible religions obesity is a sin, perhaps we should start blaming the churches.


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