Report calls for more emphasis on obesity reduction than food safety

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Nutrition

Regulators should give greater weight to reducing obesity rates in
comparison to increasing food safety, according to a new report.

The report, by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, found that most cases of serious illness and death in the Netherlands is caused by poor diet. The researchers recommend that governments should focus on diet to improve public health, rather than trying to improve food safety.

The head of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Herman Koeter, said in a statement that the report would be used as a leading piece of research in the EU when making risk analysis of food and diets. The statement could mean a greater focus by the European Commission on pushing food companies to formulate healthier products.

The report found that each year a poor diet leads to about 13,000 deaths due to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and obesity-related illnesses in the Netherlands. Foodborne infections, on the other hand, claim between 20 and 200 lives per year.

An unhealthy diet currently reduces the average life expectancy of a 40-year-old in the Netherlands by 1.2 years, while obesity eats up 0.8 years, the researchers found.

The research found that insufficient consumption of fish, fruit and vegetables is as bad for human health as smoking. The researchers also say that about 25 per cent of deaths and serious illness caused by overweight and obesity would be avoided if all adults would shed three kgs of weight.

"In particular, attempts at reducing saturated and trans fatty acid uptake and increasing fish, fruit and vegetables consumption could save many lives,"​ the report said.

Saturated and trans fatty acids, which are ingested through animal fats, tropical oils such as coconut and palm oils, and processed vegetable oils, raise the levels of cholesterol and the risk of heart disease in humans.

The percentage of people classified as obese in the Netherlands has doubled in the last 25 years to about 10 per cent of the adult population. Researchers predict that the number will rise to 15 per cent within the next 20 years.

Overweight and unfavourable dietary composition each account for about 40,000 cases of adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and different types of cancer in total per year in the Netherlands. Poor diet is twice as likely as being overweight to result in death. About 10 per cent of all deaths in the Netherlands are attributable to the composition of the diet and five per cent to being overweight.

Meanwhile issues about food safety generally reaches the news only when problems occur, usually due to unavoidable incidents. This creates a distorted picture of the actual situation, the researchers stated.

Dutch food has become demonstrably safer over the past 20 years in terms of chemical and microbiological contamination, the researchers stated. . Nevertheless, food safety is often the subject of negative media coverage, resulting in a greater public profile.

"For example, the contamination of animal products with Salmonella has been reduced considerably, as has the concentration of dioxins in foods and human breast milk,"​ the researchers stated.

Despite the emphasis on diet the researchers also advise regulators to continue improving food safety.

"Although much has been achieved in terms of food safety, we must not rest on our laurels," the report stated. " New developments and emerging threats must be addressed. New products are being introduced all the time, such as food with health-promoting additions and genetically modified foods. Their safety must also be assured."

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