NUTRITIONAL UPDATE – JULY 2014

With the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) and The Lancet both releasing key figures that imply that our diets are in a pretty bad shape, we have to ask ourselves what a successful public health campaign looks like. These statistics imply that we are yet to find one, despite an incredible amount of great work going on behind the scenes.

In this month’s Wild Card nutrition update we discuss these recent findings as well as other key stories that have been hitting the headlines over the last few weeks.

Results from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) are out

Department of Health

The NDNS is designed to assess the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population aged 1.5 years and over, living in the UK. It provides the only source of high quality, nationally representative data on the types and quantities of foods consumed by individuals, from which estimates of nutrient intake for the whole population are derived. These findings are crucial for monitoring the health of the nation and allowing the Government to implement or change policy as a result.

The latest report came out on May 14th and details the combined results from the NDNS carried out in 2008/09 to 2011/12. Public Health England and The Food Standards Agency have generated an executive summary based off these findings, from which the key results are:

  1. Mean saturated fat, non-milk extrinsic sugars and salt intakes were above dietary recommendations. Consuming too much of these nutrients has implications for heart health, blood pressure and excess weight gain and its associated complications.
  2. Mean intakes of fruit and vegetables, non-starch polysaccharides and oily fish were below recommendations. With these foods influencing vitamin and mineral levels, gut health and heart health it is concerning that adequate amounts are not being consumed.
  3. There was evidence of an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency in all age/sex groups. Vitamin D has recently been in the press due to the resurgence of rickets in the UK – a disease caused by lack of vitamin D that has not been witnessed for many years. Vitamin D also plays an important role to maintain our calcium levels – vital for ensuring we have healthy bones and teeth.
  4. Both the dietary intake and biochemical status data indicated an increased risk of iron deficiency in girls aged 11 to 18 years and women aged 19 to 64 years. Iron is required for transferring oxygen around our blood. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia, particularly in menstruating females.
  5. Some evidence of income differences in diet and nutrient intake with those in lower income quintiles tending to have poorer diets, particularly with respect to fruit and vegetable consumption.

Despite prominent health campaigns such as ‘5-a-day’, the public is still struggling to follow key healthy eating advice. It is now up to the government, the food industry and the public to really try and come up with campaigns that really can influence public health and change our eating habits for good and for the better.

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Tesco sponsors debate on how we can all eat in a healthy, affordable and environmentally sustainable way

Tesco

Tesco is making a conscious effort to improve its health credentials. For example, they have been working with their suppliers to change product formulation in order to reduce salt as well as planned changes to cut sugar in its soft drinks by 25%. Tesco has also just announced that it will stop selling sweets at the checkouts in its smaller stores, having already removed them from larger stores – a great success for the British Dietetic Association who helped spearhead the ‘junk free checkout’ campaign.

On top of these moves, Tesco has also sponsored ‘The Guardian Roundtable’ to discuss how we, as a global community, can eat in a healthy, affordable way that is also sustainable.

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, makes an interesting point that maybe consumers need to eat a diet within environmental limits that also works from a public health perspective. The term given to this is, ‘sustainable diets’. What does this look like? The WWF have produced a ‘Livewell Guide’ based off the NHS’ ‘Eatwell Plate’, which takes these healthy eating goals but marries them with sustainability objectives. Based off this, the guide proposes that a sustainable diet is one that involves eating less processed food, eating less by volume, eating less meat, buying food that meets a credible certified standard and finally eating more plants.

Clearly change is never anything that happens quickly but if shifts in attitude do start to occur then this will have a large impact on the food industry as a whole.

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Global population of obese and overweight tops 2.1bn

Lancet

Research published in leading medical-journal the Lancet has shown that the number of obese or overweight people in the world has risen from 875million in 1980 to over 2.1 billion currently.

The systematic review was part of The Global Burden of Disease Study where the hope is that a large-scale picture of the prevalence of overweight and obesity can be formed. This will allow us all to gain a better grasp of this exploding epidemic so that urgent global action and leadership can happen in order to help countries more effectively intervene.

The UK has the third highest rates of obesity in Western Europe, with 67% of men and 57% of women overweight or obese and more than half of the world’s 671 million obese people live in 10 countries, of which the US comes out on top, followed by China.

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England said: “Obesity is a complex issue that requires action at national, local, family and individual levels; everyone has a role to play in improving the health and well-being of the public and children in particular.”

This issue is here to stay and it is likely that one form of treatment may be increasing taxation on unhealthy products as well as the government increasingly working with the food industry in order to make products healthier. The role of education must also not be forgotten.

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Secret of the Mediterranean diet revealed

Mediterranean Diet

We have known the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for a while in terms of its positive effect on cardiovascular health and most recently dementia.

The science behind why this diet has these positive health effects has long been thought to be due to the diet being high in unsaturated fat, fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in animal products and saturated fat. This means that the diet contains numerous components that have been found to have positive effects on our health.

However, a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS has isolated a type of chemical called nitro-fatty acids which has been found, in mice, to inhibit an enzyme called soluble epoxide hydrolase which in turn lowers blood pressure.

The researchers found that these nitro fatty acids could be produced from foods consumed as part of the Mediterranean diet, as chemicals in olive oil and fish could combine with chemicals in vegetables.

Future research will now be needed to determine whether the same process occurs in humans, however, it is always exciting when the benefit of a diet that we have encouraged for many years, has some exciting new research behind it that highlights the mechanics.

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