Diet and health; an international challenge- Delegates hear at nutritional challenge

01 May, 2007. Experts in public health nutrition from the UK and Ireland gathered in Dublin today to highlight the need for a sustained, international approach to achieve dietary change. The conference, jointly sponsored by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI) and the all-island agency safefood heard of the latest developments on key nutrition topics including obesity, nutritional deficiency, salt intake, fortification and food poverty. In addition, case studies presented show the importance of all-island partnerships in changing dietary habits.

Professor Albert Flynn, University College, Cork, called for a co-ordinated approach at EU level to tackle the obesity issue in a paper entitled ‘Nutrition from an International Perspective’. While efforts are being made on a national level to beat obesity, Ireland is still shaped by European policy and greater changes will only occur if Member States co-operate and tackle the problem together.

“Recent studies show that Mediterranean countries, such as Greece, Spain, France, Italy and Cyprus have Europe’s highest levels of obesity in children. Contrary to what people many believe, Ireland ranks in the middle on obesity levels in relation to other European countries. While physical activity levels have declined, people haven't changed their eating habits to accommodate this - like eating less calories. Given this lifestyle, the food industry's response to this issue is what is most important. Industry accepts it has a vital role to play in influencing consumers dietary habits” stated Professor Flynn.    

“Industry is responding to the increasing levels of obesity and the associated diseases such as diabetes and heart disease by reformulating its products with less calories, fat, sugar and salt so as to provide consumers with more healthy options. Consumers need to be able to make choices about the food they eat, so they need clear labelling across the board no matter what European country the product comes from. Advertising and marketing of foods to children is also under review and the EU Commission would like to see the food industry self regulate and adopt its own codes of practice in order to achieve a closer match between the advertised diet and the balanced diet”, concluded Professor Flynn.  

Dr Mary Flynn, Chief Specialist in Public Health Nutrition, FSAI, highlighted that in the current climate of excess food in consumer’s diets, Ireland still experiences nutrition deficiencies. Dr Flynn cites the recent report produced by the FSAI which recommends the mandatory fortification of most bread with folic acid to prevent serious birth defects. 

“Unlike many other reports that are written, this report is not staying on the shelf and the work of the implementation group on folic acid is underway to ensure the recommendations are delivered on within a year. To date, new legislation is currently being drafted for the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid, along with new legislation to establish a congenital birth defects register in Ireland. The importance of underpinning nutrition policy with evidence based science is a priority and the work of establishing the folate status of the population prior to the implementation of fortification is well advanced”, stated Dr Flynn.

The partnership approach will be addressed by Dr Marian Faughnan, safefood, in a case study on an all-island campaign targeting the patrons of workplace restaurants. 

“It is known that high dietary salt intake is associated with high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart disease and stroke. With this in mind, our Six Weeks campaign was developed to make it easier for people to reduce their salt intake and become healthier. The campaign provided practical support and encouragement and was not just about workplace habits, but was about adopting healthier eating choices across your life and ultimately improving long term health”, commented Dr Faughnan. 

Dr Ameila Lake, a registered dietician and researcher at Newcastle University, will present a case study on dietary change based on findings of research conducted to assess how diet changes from adolescence to adulthood.
“The research conducted by the team at Newcastle University examined the food consumption of 200 Northumberland schoolchildren aged 11-12 years old and revisited the same people 20 years later, when participants were in their early thirties. On both occasions, participants kept detailed food diaries and in their 30’s were also questioned about their diets and the perceived influences on food intake. Adults eat around twice the amount of fruit and vegetables and less fat and sugar than they did as children. People who took part in the study said parents, partners and children influenced their diet, together with their amount of free time and work patterns. These factors can exert either a positive or a negative effect on eating behaviour.”

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For more information

Jane Ryder, FSAI - (01) 8171302 or 087 242 9180
Avril Collins / Siobhan Molloy - (01) 6760168 or 086 396 4368
Weber Shandwick