English-style diet 'could save 4,000' in rest of UK
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.
End Quote Victoria Taylor Senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation
This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments ”
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 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.