Healthy living * Weight loss

English diet could save thousands of lives in UK

English diet could save thousands of lives in UK Healthier, but not healthy, diet

Adopting the average English diet could save the lives of thousands of people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to a new study.

A study from Oxford University estimated that 3,700 deaths a year from conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer could be prevented if everyone in the UK ate an English style diet.

Death rates for heart disease, stroke and cancer are all higher in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than in England.

Experts say a key factor in the mortality gap between the home nations is the food that people regularly eat.

The researchers at the university analysed the mortality data for heart disease, stroke, and 10 cancers linked to diet in each of the four home nations over three years from 2007 to 2009.

They also estimated the average diet in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland using data from the Family Food Survey for the same time period.

A mathematical model was then used to calculate the impact of diets on death rates.

Overall, the study found that people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ate more salt, saturated fat and calories than people living in England.

While the English consumed the least salt - around 7g a day - this still exceeds the recommended daily limit of 6g. High salt intake increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

People living in England and Wales ate a similar amount of fruit and vegetables. However, consumption of fruit and vegetables in Scotland was around 12 per cent lower than in England, and about 20 per cent lower in Northern Ireland.

The poorer diets seen in Scotland, however, only accounted for around 40 per cent of the difference in mortality rates compared with England.

Other factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and levels of physical activity may also affect the difference in death rates between the four countries, the researchers said.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the medical journal BMJ Open.

Dr Peter Scarborough of the Department of Public Health at Oxford University, who led the study, said: "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.

"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.

"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.

The professor also added that a tax on salt and saturated fat, combined with subsidies for fruit and vegetables should be considered.

Victoria Taylor, a senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: "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 per cent 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 was published in British Medical Journal Open.

This article was published on Thu 3 November 2011

Image © Tomasz Trojanowski -

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