The Great British diet

Dietitian Tracy Parker

Should the UK really follow an English diet? Our Senior Dietitian, Tracy Parker, blogs about research which says just that.

Tuesday November 02 2011

Fruit crumbleLet the English rejoice! New research apparently says lives could be saved if Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland begin eating the diet of St George. Take that haggis, in your face Welsh rarebit, hasta la vista Irish stew. Long live the Yorkshire pudding!

But let’s take a deep breath before waging a UK food fight. Good research often raises more questions than it answers.

The crux of the research, funded by us, showed that people in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales ate more saturated fat and salt and fewer fruits and vegetables every day than their English counterparts.

No matter where in the UK we live, we could all do more to improve our diet

Now let’s get to the bit that has prompted the headlines. Researchers then calculated what differences in death rates could be expected from changes in “average dietary quality” using a complicated mathematical model called DIETRON. Apart from sounding like a character from the new Transformers movie, it calculates the impact of food consumption on health outcomes.

The results showed around 4,000 deaths, most from heart disease, could be prevented every year if the UK population adopted the average diet eaten in England. It’s a big “if” though and definitely not that black and white.

Too much salt

The main problem with telling people to go out and follow an English way of eating is that England is not home to the perfect diet. Far from it. A quarter of English adults are obese and only a third are eating their five-a-day. The most recent statistics show 9 in 10 men and 7 in 10 women in England are exceeding the maximum recommended daily amount of salt.

So the English are by no means perfect and this study shouldn’t prompt people living in England to sit back and think they’re eating the perfect diet. It is, however, very useful in showing huge inequalities in diet and health across the UK.

I think the real message here is that no matter where in the UK we live, we could all do more to improve our diet. That means a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg and less saturated fat and salt. This shouldn’t be about bragging rights – there’s work to be done everywhere.