Date Published: 18 August 2006

Small improvements in diet could save 1000 Kiwis each year and reduce ethnic disparities in health

Health News from New Zealand.
Health News from New Zealand.

Small, nationwide improvements in diet and physical activity levels could save 1000 lives each year from 2011 - and the benefits are greatest for Maori.

A study in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal estimates that by eating less fatty and sugary food, less salt and more vegetables and fruit we could reduce the number of people dying each year from 2011 onwards by almost 1000. The study is a follow-up to a report released in 2003 by the Ministry of Health and the University of Auckland looking at the relationship between nutrition and deaths due to chronic disease. The current report specifically looks at differences between Maori and non-Maori.

The original study estimated that poor nutrition and physical inactivity potentially played a role in up to 11,000 deaths in New Zealand in 1997 (two in every five deaths), with more than 4500 premature deaths attributed to high cholesterol. It showed that high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension) resulted in about 3700 deaths, overweight and obesity contributed to 3200 deaths, and inadequate vegetable and fruit intake contributed to 1600 deaths.

Deputy Director-General of Public Health Don Matheson welcomes the latest report on ethnic disparities in the burden of poor nutrition.

He said that small reductions at the population level in our average blood pressure, average cholesterol levels; average body weights and a modest increase in vegetable and fruit consumption would have a major impact on population health.

Dr Matheson said that any study like this makes a number of assumptions, but provides a useful estimate of the scope for health gain.

The calculations show that the gains are available to all of us, but are even greater for Maori. He said that the key messages for individuals from the study are:

  • Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruit each day
  • Choose foods and drinks that are low in fat, salt and sugar
  • Be physically active for at least half an hour a day.

Dr Matheson said that we are well placed to use the framework of the primary health strategy to get some improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure levels through the emphasis on keeping people well and managing chronic conditions. We can also expect to gain major health benefit from implementing the Government's Healthy Eating-Healthy Action strategy, which aims to provide a supportive environment to enable New Zealanders as a population to eat better and to be more physically active.

Source: New Zealand Ministry of Health

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