Health Risks Increase

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Health Risks Increase

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy, released a joint report in March. More than 30 international experts from these two United Nations (UN) agencies produced this report, which shows great concern for public health.

It is clear there are significant health risks associated with a modern diet. This diet is high in added salt, refined sugars, refined grains and saturated and hydrogenated fats. Overwhelming data link a saturated-fat-rich diet (with foods like processed meats and fatty dairy products) with a much greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans and has been for decades.

People in both industrialized and developing nations have increasingly sedentary jobs which coupled with an increasingly calorie-rich, modern diet promotes a variety of common ills. The WHO/FAO report states, ?Because of these changes in dietary and lifestyle patterns, obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and some types of cancer are significant causes of disability and premature death ? placing additional burdens on already overtaxed national health budgets.?1 The WHO/FAO report projects if current trends continue, these chronic diseases will account for two-thirds of all deaths by 2020.

According to the WHO/FAO report, commercial pressures, institutional inertia, inadequate resources and an underestimation of the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions has undermined efforts to prevent these noncommunicable diseases.

Population-based programs to alter diet and lifestyle can be successful and often far more effective than the more costly medical treatments of these chronic diseases.

In North Karelia, Finland, a public health education program dramatically dropped the death rate from heart disease. Analysis of the 3 main risk factors (smoking, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia) indicated that dietary changes were largely responsible for the drops in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. There was a corresponding drop in fatal heart attacks. The contribution of more expensive medical interventions, including drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and heart surgery, to the reduction in CVD deaths was, in fact, rather small.2

Korea has had success in combating the worldwide trend toward an unhealthful diet. Koreans have lower rates of obesity and other chronic diseases and a lower-than-expected level of fat intake compared with other industrialized countries. This is largely because Koreans have maintained their traditional lowfat, high-vegetable diet despite increased economic wealth.3


Health Risks Increase Health Risks Increase


Bottom Line:

The huge medical costs associated with trying to treat diseases caused largely by a poor diet and inactivity threaten the quality of life in an increasing percentage of the world?s population. The commercial interests of the multinational food and drug companies will continue to exert political pressures to undermine public health programs to improve the health and well being of most of the world?s population.

See the table below for WHO/FAO dietary goals. Note that the amount of fruits and vegetables you should eat every day is almost one pound, and this excludes potatoes. They also recommend using whole grains. Most important, they recommend 10% or less free sugars.

By James Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN.


1. WHO/FAO Technical Report Series 916. Geneva 2003

2. Bulletin of WHO, 1998, 76:419-25

3. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;71:44-53

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