According to a study published in BMJ Open, less than 0.1% of the UK population follows the dietary recommendations outlined in the government’s Eatwell Guide. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Bergen, analyzed data from over 465,000 participants in the UK Biobank. Unhealthy dietary patterns, characterized by low intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, and white meat, but high intake of red and processed meats, eggs, refined grains, and sugary drinks, were found to be prevalent.
The researchers found that adhering to the dietary recommendations in the Eatwell Guide could significantly increase life expectancy. A 40-year-old man who followed the guide’s recommendations could add 8.9 years to his life expectancy, while a woman of the same age could increase her life expectancy by 8.6 years. For a 70-year-old, the change would correspond to a 4-year increase in life expectancy for both men and women.
The study also identified specific foods with the greatest impact on reducing overall mortality risk. Consuming more whole grains and nuts while reducing red meat and sugary drink intake was associated with the largest improvements in life expectancy. However, due to the low number of individuals adhering to a healthy diet, the authors acknowledge the limited certainty of their data.
In response to these findings, the authors suggest the implementation of taxes on unhealthy foods and the reduction of costs for healthy foods. Dr. Linia Patel, a dietician and British Dietetic Association spokesperson, emphasizes the importance of considering socioeconomic factors when designing policies to promote healthy diets. She also highlights the need for education to address barriers preventing people from adopting healthier eating habits.
While the study provides valuable insights, it is important to note that the UK Biobank cohort may not be fully representative of the country’s population. Further research is needed to understand the best approach to designing effective policies that can help people adopt healthier eating habits. The study supports the need for long-term, multi-sector action to improve diets in the UK and highlights the potential impact on life expectancy.