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 157.

    1. Is it the purpose of this 'news' to send Welsh, Scottish and Irish eyebrows heavenwards once again at yet another inevitable instance of English smugness? After all, the 'English diet' of a working class family in Wiggan may be somewhat different from that of an affluent upper middle class family in Surrey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    "you would think that some gross insult had been hurled at other nations. You people need to grow up."

    Maybe we should ~chuckles~ (I'm Scottish), but comments along the lines that we should hurry up and die (88.Manzarali) does little to keep the topic cordial. 151.Lorna, prescriptions and budget priorities has also appeared, different governments with different priorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    How would a tax work, exactly?

    What about the people who generally live healthily, keep in shape and occasionally treat themselves to a cheeky McDonalds? (other fast food outlets are available).

    I don't understand how that's fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    My local market on Saturday: 56lb spuds under a fiver, carrots 30p lb, apples 3lb for a pound, cauli 50p each.... even avocados are usually 2 for a quid. Get real, proper fresh fruit and veg from a market is VERY much cheaper than the supermarket, cheaper than the junk, even buying it means exercise in the fresh air. Get a shopping trolley if you don't want to carry the bags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Many people order unhealthy food and have a diet coke with it, it's generally nothing to do with health. A lot of people prefer the taste of diet drinks to the full sugar ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Wonder if it matters that england has 55 million + Scotland 5 mill + does the numbers being bandied about take that into consideration plus i worked in London for a while on the building sites and the vast majority of the english i encountered were far from healthy in there eating habits in fact it was pretty shocking what some of them put away, they even have chips as part of there breakfast lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    The Scots do have free prescriptions ( the Welsh also?) whilst the English pay £7.40 per item. Not to mention free university tuition fees. The inequalities within our nation are staggering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    I'm sorry, but can't any of these so-called 'experts' ever think more widely than increasing taxes as though that was the global panacea?

    Education is the answer, NOT taxation. Oh, and by the way, it also doesn't help that the 'nutrition experts' change their minds about what is good, or bad, for us every few years. Truth is they don't know any better than anyone else. Experts? Bah!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    This article is simplistic and racist.

    What next- saying that black people should adopt white people morality as more black people are convicted and jailed, per capita?

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Yeah, eat like us, we're great!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Still on coupons in late 40s early 50s in Manchester - little chance for walking in the rain.
    Enjoyed Oxford's opportunities to eat student diet and to walk the meadows fairly sheltered.
    North of the border eat to keep out the cold, avoided the midges even in winter.
    Retired in Spain with med diet and walk out almost anytime.
    64 years old with 111/73 all signs good.
    Eat and exercise for location.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    The government should tax those producing this type of food, not punish the people consuming it. It's their choice to consume this food if they really want but companies ought to produce healthier options as it is possibile for them to do so. It would push up the cost of the product but people eat junk partly because it's so cheap. The demand needs to change and healthy food should be cheaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    I personally couldn't care less about what other people eat, drink or smoke. 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I wish the BBC and the media would get their facts right.

    Fat and salt are not bad for you. All studies have shown reducing both, has little to no, health benefits. Vegetables have shown to have no positive effects on preventing cancer.

    Just look at France (high fat) and Japan (high salt) both have lowest heart disease rates, so clearly fat and salt are not the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    I am planning on sampling the Indian diet tonight and maybe Chinese on Saturday - all in the interest of science of course. I will report my findings next week
    Great. You won't find many fat Indians or Chinese unless they truly are genetically disposed or make a huge effort to be fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Here we go again. Any excuse for nationalistic chips on shoulders to be aired. A scientific study comes up with evidence around regional diets that appears to suggest the English (on average) eat more healthily than others and you would think that some gross insult had been hurled at other nations. You people need to grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Obesity costs the NHS an obscene amount every year. Being obese is as self-inflicted as smoking. Smokers have to pay huge taxes on their 'bad habit', why shouldn't junk food addicts? "If someone wants to eat Mars bars, it's their choice" is a fine attitude if obese people paid for their own healthcare. But they don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    The sooner governments and mainstream health wisdom throws out the outdated junk science of "saturated fat is bad for you" the better. A "fat tax" would be completely counterproductive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Laffz wondered how long it would take for someone to mention benefits and of course it's all the folk on benefits that are to blame for everything, and i am sure if that was to happen those nasty people on benefits would owe the govt money lol.
    But on a more serious note thats another issue people on benefits mite find it a tad harder to succumb to a healthy diet compared to the working peeps

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    According to some surveys we have an aging, miserable population. Let them eat cake (or deep fried mars bars) and die young but happy.


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