New research has shown that eight out of ten deaths in Wales and Ireland, and four out of ten in Scotland, deemed “unnecessary” from cancer, heart disease, and stroke could have been prevented if the victims followed an English diet as opposed to that of their native country.
The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, revealed that citizens of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland as a whole ingest more calories, salt, and fat than their neighbor does. They also eat fewer fruits and veggies, staples to any healthy diet.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the John Radcliffe Hospital noticed that regarding heart disease, stroke, and ten types of cancer associated with diet, the death rates were significantly higher in the three countries compared to England. Between 2007 and 2009, the experts estimate that close to 4,000 died unnecessary deaths, ones that could have been avoided had they followed England’s diet.
Overall, the average daily calorie consumption for England was 2289, Wales 2364, Scotland 2370, and Northern Ireland 2424. Another high figure was the total fat, with England at 94.9 g and Ireland at 100.1g.
Overall, however, the chief factor in the dietary differences seems to be the giant gap in fruits and vegetable intake. “Consumption of fruit and vegetables in Scotland is around 12% lower than in England, and it is about 20% lower in Northern Ireland. The Welsh eat about the same amount as the English,” according to HealthCanal.com
To combat this clearly daunting issue, the researchers have proposed a “fat tax”: “identifying 'fiscal initiatives aimed at increasing the cost of foods high in saturated fat (so called ‘fat taxes’) may be best placed to reduce geographical inequalities in health if they are paired with subsidies for fruit and vegetables,’” according to the Daily Mail.
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However, there are a few important things to remember when reading about this study. One is that the English diet definitely isn’t the healthiest of them all; according to Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, “ a quarter of English adults are obese and only 30% eat their five-a-day.”
‘The English diet was not chosen as an example of a healthy diet, which it most certainly is not! At present in England we do not meet government recommendations for average consumption of salt, saturated fat and fruit and vegetables,” adds Dr. Peter Scarborough, of the Department of Public Health at Oxford University.“However, selecting the English diet as a “comparison” diet for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is useful as it allows for comparisons with a diet that is similar and – crucially – achievable.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that outside factors aside from unhealthy eating habits can also lead to unnecessary deaths. “The prevalence of smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity levels, which are not uniform across the UK, could have an impact on incidence rates,” Dr. Scarborough admitted.
“Small improvements in dietary quality in Scotland and Northern Ireland (and, to a lesser degree, Wales) could result in substantial narrowing of health inequalities within the United Kingdom,” he concluded. “If dietary quality within Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were equivalent to England, then we would expect there to be around 3700 fewer deaths in these countries annually.”