Research by the University of Liverpool has found that intervention policies that promote healthy eating could cut the death rate for cardiovascular disease (CVD) by up to 50%.
Professor Simon Capewell from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Well-being found that intervention policies which reduce unhealthy eating habits can have a significant effect on levels of CVD at both an individual and population level.
Poor diet is one of the major causes of CVD and small improvements can make a positive and rapid impact on both the individual and the wider population. However, the information about healthy eating, whilst plentiful, has been unclear and often caused confusion.
The study identifies six foods which make could a significant improvement to cardiovascular disease rate. Researchers estimate that eating more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts (in place of starch), vegetable oils (in place of animal fats) and fish and seafood in the diet it would result in 9.2million fewer deaths globally. Likewise, limiting our intake of salt and industrial trans fats would have a positive effect on CVD rates and could save 2.6 million lives globally.
Research found that population-wide prevention programmes are cost-effective and even cost-saving. Effective intervention policies work best as part of a wide ranging programme which include both legislative and educational policies, for example pricing policies to subsidise healthier food and tax less healthy ones; long-term agricultural government strategies promoting infrastructure for production; improved transportation and marketing of healthier food; strict guidelines on marketing of food and beverages to children; mandatory product and menu labelling; increased support for local markets providing healthier foods; school-based interventions incorporating dietary curricula as well as trained teachers and the availability of healthy food menus.
Cardiovascular disease kills around 20 million people, including 10 million prematurely before the age of 65. CVD is the UK's biggest killer, with 191,000 deaths from the disease in 2008. There are some 124,000 heart attacks in the UK every year.
Whilst drug and hospital based prevention are successful for high-risk individuals with CVD, this is relatively costly and not sustainable in many countries.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal.