Cutting salt and fats could save 1,000 lives a year
A FEW simple steps could save more than 1,000 Irish people from dying of heart disease or strokes each year, new research revealed.
Cutting down on salt, trans fats and saturated fat in processed foods and eating more fruit and vegetables would help cut the death rate dramatically, says Professor Ivan Perry.
New evidence showed one in four deaths from heart disease and strokes could be prevented.
Prof Perry, head of the Health Research Board (HRB) Centre for Diet and Health, said Irish people would be much healthier from these simple steps.
He said there are "significant opportunities for Government and industry" to cut death rates by making fruit and vegetables more affordable and working with the food industry to reduce salt in processed foods.
He pointed out that 395 deaths could be prevented each year by reducing salt intake by one gramme per day, reducing trans fat by 0.5pc of energy intake and saturated fat by 1pc of energy intake, as well as consuming one additional portion of fruit or vegetables a day.
But 1,070 deaths from could be prevented each year in a "politically feasible scenario" of reducing salt intake by 3 grammes per day, reducing trans fat by 1pc of energy intake and saturated fat by 3pc of energy intake, as well as three additional portions of fruit and vegetables a day, he said.
In 2011, dietary fat constituted 37pc of the food energy intake for 18 to 64-year-olds in Ireland. Almost two-thirds of all Irish people were found to be exceeding the recommended upper limit of 35pc for food energy from fat.
"Such gaps in food policy choices and the achievable dietary standards indicate the need for a paradigm shift in public health food policy interventions," said Mr Perry, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCC.
"We took leadership in the tobacco control with a comprehensive nationwide smoke-free policy in 2004. Similar leadership is critical for legislating dietary food policies both at national and EU level."
The World Health Organisation estimates that 80pc of premature heart disease and stroke deaths can be prevented. Even small reductions in incidence and deaths will lead to large population health gains and reductions in direct and indirect health costs.
In Ireland, heart disease deaths were halved between 1985 and 2006 as a result of population health measures in relation to smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol combined with treatment improvements.
"Doing nothing or simply monitoring the situation could result in dire public health consequences for the Irish Population, both in the short and the long term," said Prof Perry.