- by Madeleine Brindley, Western Mail
A research paper has calculated legislation to limit the amount of salt foods contain and to ban the use of trans-fats could prevent thousands of cases of heart disease in England and Wales.
The British Heart Foundation today called on the UK Government to ensure all food products carry traffic light labels to make it easier for people to buy healthier foods.
And the British Medical Association has urged the Welsh Government to refocus its attention on the prevention agenda to improve the health and well-being of the nation.
Research by the University of Birmingham, published by bmj.com today, has suggested introducing legislation or other measures to reduce dietary salt intake by 3g a day or industrial trans-fatty acid intake by 0.7% would save the NHS up to £230m a year.
A programme to reduce the risk of heart disease by 1%, preventing around 25,000 heart disease cases a year, would save in the region of £30m a year.
And reducing cholesterol or blood pressure levels by 5% would result in annual savings of potentially £100m.
Dr Pelham Barton from the University of Birmingham’s school of health and population sciences, who lead the research, said: “Cardiovascular diseases – principally coronary heart disease and stroke – together account for more than 150,000 deaths a year in the UK.
“Cardiovascular diseases affect more than five million people, and annual costs exceed £30bn. However, more than 80% of premature cardiovascular disease is avoidable.”
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Large- scale prevention measures can take time to show their full effect, so modelling studies like this are useful for identifying the cost effectiveness and benefits that different approaches may offer.
“We know that eating well is key for our heart health. Voluntary action has already helped to make improvements to our diets, but there’s much more that still needs to be done including reformulating foods to make them healthier, and helping to make the healthy choice an easy choice.
“To this end, we’re calling on the Government to do every- thing it can to get traffic light labels onto food packs because they make it easier for shoppers to see at a glance what’s in the food they’re buying. Formally recommending these to food manufacturers and retailers would be a great start.”
Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said the research reinforces the messages about the importance of a healthy diet to well-being.
“It is important the Welsh Government refocuses on the health promotion and prevention agenda, which at devolution was clearly part of its policy approach,” he said.
“I believe this had an impact on raising some of these issues with the people of Wales and the population was responding positively to it.
“We really need to reform that agenda because it has to be a foundation for creating a healthy future for the people of Wales as well as getting the treatment of ill health up to the highest standards.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “While we are continuing to invest in educating people on the importance of a healthy lifestyle and diet, people also have to take personal responsibility for their health and well-being.
“This includes opting for the healthy choice – not smoking, drinking sensibly, eating healthily and being physically active.
“We are encouraging food businesses to increase the availability, and promotion, of healthy options.
“We have already used legislation to improve people’s health by limiting the impact of second-hand smoke on non-smokers and recently the First Minister announced plans to consider a ban on smoking in cars carrying children.”