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D.iet & H.ealth : G.eneral H.ealth Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Unhealthy diet damages health as smoking does
By David Liu, Ph.D.
May 29, 2006, 19:08

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Many people may not take their diet seriously. But insufficient intake of certain foods such as fish, fruit, and vegetables is just as bad for human health as smoking cigarettes, finds a new Dutch report published Monday by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

To many people's surprise, the 264-page report titled "our food our health - Healthy diet and safe food in The Netherlands" claimed that most cases of serious illness and death in the Netherlands results from poor diet.

Many scientists have already come to an agreement that at least more than 75% of diseases, particularly those seen in affluent countries can be prevented by just using a healthy diet.

After reviewing the full spectrum of dietary habits and potential government measures, the authors of the report state that "substantial health gains can be made through dietary interventions which are considered feasible."

Based on what they learned from their extensive research into the effects of current food trends in The Netherlands, the authors say "Much greater health gains are to be made through encouraging a healthy diet than through improving food safety"

The report identifies low intake of fish, fruit and vegetables among all the dietary factors as the cause responsible for the most cases of serious illness and death in The Netherlands.

About 50 percent of the serious illness and death can be avoided through interventions which appear feasible from small-scale experiments. In particular, attempts at reducing saturated and trans fatty acid uptake and increasing fish, fruit and vegetables consumption could save MANY lives, the authors say.

According to the Dutch report, unhealthy diet composition reduces the lifespan of Dutch 40-year-olds by 1.2 years whereas obesity claims 0.8 years.

The unhealthy diet habits are just as bad as smoking in terms of their effect on risk of deaths, health loss and years spent living with serious disability. The report finds that 25 percent of deaths and serious illness caused by overweight and obesity can be avoided if the body weight is lowered by three kilograms.

A good diet trend observed is that Dutch people are decreasing intake of trans fat and saturated fatty acids and increasing intake of fish. But a bad trend is that they are decreasing consumption of fruit, vegetable and dietary fiber. Also they eat too much meat, 50 percent more meat than the amount recommended.

Each year, according to the report, inadequate diet causes about 13,000 deaths in The Netherlands due to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer whereas obesity claims 7,000 lives due to CVD and cancer.

By contrast, food borne illness claims somewhere between 20 and 200 lives each year, indicating that the Dutch government and research communities should invest more in promoting healthy diets than in prevention of food borne illness.

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