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 417.

    Having just enjoyed a long weekend in Edinburgh eating out in a wide variety of eateries I was very aware that salt was unnecessarily added to many of the foods we ate. Why do chefs have this obsession with adding salt to everything. I brought my children up on water, milk and pure fruit juice diluted forget fizzy drinks the sugars they contain contribute massively to the obesity problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    I cant afford to feed my family anything but healthy food. Processed ready meals and fizzy drinks, snacks etc cost a fortune and really are just a luxury.
    I suggest those who say they cant afford to eat healthily admit to not wanting to cook and being too lazy or would prefer to spend money on cigarettes and drink instead. If neither of those apply, readjust your food budget, it can be done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Smokers and drinkers pay extra tax over and above the normal income tax etc, which covers the cost of their habit to the NHS. The obese, who are currently crippling the NHS should do the same. Not via a tax on sugar or fat but by a tax on weight, so that normal people are not penalised. The Japanes have compulsory weighing of people done at work places and organised by local authorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    This is a load of rubbish - AGAIN! The solution is to heavily tax the companies that produce processed "food" full of carbs and sugar. Also stop demonising fat - it is good for us as long as it is the natural kind - not the rubbish margarines and processed fats like the ones produced by Unilever!

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    a new health report in raising a stealth tax.sweet.Surely you can't really legislate for stupidity?at least it's four thousand less spunging of the daily hate mail reading backbone of britain.lol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Why should I pay more for a food group (fat, not sugars) that has been incorrectly attributed as a cause of obesity, as a result of a MINORITY'S lack of self control?

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    "I'm just waiting for someone to blame the English for stealing all the healthy food."

    Is that what is is, did no recognise it without batter on :P

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    I'm just waiting for someone to blame the English for stealing all the healthy food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    Firstly VAT is a kind of sales tax in which you're paying for the 'value' added to a product during manufacturing, saying you already pay a 'fat tax' e.g. VAT is inaccurate as its the 'value' not the salt, fats etc you're paying for. Secondly what’s with this collective punishment of the population? I have to pay a tax on food I enjoy in moderation because some people can't control their urges?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    As for NHS costs. What does treating sporting injuries cost the NHS? Or dance, D.I.Y. and general stupidity? Should we tax people depending on the risks they take? If we tax fat people, why not others?The idea that we should all pay for what the NHS might spend on treating us completely undermines the whole concept. Insurance is for the minority who need it not the fortunate majority who don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    @403. antrawr
    'Veg' can be as cheap if not cheaper then junk food in the supermarket, especially in places like Liddl's (sic).
    I've often wondered why veg in Lidl and Aldi is so cheap. Is it because it is low quality and riddled with pesticides or is it because other supermarkets are ripping us off?

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    The initial result of my quick poll at @388 seems to be that the contributors to this HYS believe the Government should pay to take people from Drumchapel to England to learn 'healthy eating & lifestyle' rather than a mile up the road to Bearsden which has life expectancy on a par with England

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    @397. mikeriverside
    Yes, a good idea, but banning alcohol and nicotine would save a lot more lives.
    Would life be worth living if you are surrounded by ranting teetotallers and rabid ex smokers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Eating healthily doesn't have to be more expensive. No-one's insisting that we all go out and mass buy incredibly expensive smoothies and latest faddy bean snack. It just takes a little common sense.
    Homemade soup is always my answer. It's cheap and easy to make and you can choose what to put in according to your own taste/funds. No preservatives, no added salt, no great expense

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    People that are arguing that low-income families cannot affored to buy healthier foods is absolute rubbish, it all comes down to excuses, mainly laziness. Veg' can be as cheap if not cheaper then junk food in the supermarket, especially in places like Liddl's. Also, just have to know when stuff in your local supermarket gets reduced and get in there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    There is already a tax on fatty, salty, processed food, it's called VAT. People need to be re-educated not punished. Raising taxes on alcohol and tobacco hasn't stopped people drinking and smoking. Challenging the growers and supermarkets to make fresh ingredients more affordable for everybody would be a better starting point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    how scientific is this survey considering the population differences?

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.


    The stance of we pay our taxes etc... is a nonsense unless you're in the top 2% of earners. Most people, particularly the unhealthy, pay nowhere near the amount tax their healthcare actually costs. That's before we even consider how fit people benefit the economy in terms of their productivity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    wat they going to tax food now where is all this tax goin ? another tax only a excuse all governments think how can we get more money it a load of tosh

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    They'll still die.

    Everyone dies.

    Even Steve Jobs.


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