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25% of heart attacks and strokes are preventable

12 August 2013

One in four deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) or stroke could be prevented each year, according to new evidence from the Health Research Board Centre for Diet and Health. Such an outcome requires everyone in Ireland to cut their salt, trans fat and saturated fat intake and eat three more portions of fruit and veg per day.

UCC's Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Ivan Perry, who is Head of the HRB Centre for Diet and Health says that 'there are significant opportunities for government and industry to address this mortality by introducing effective, evidence based food policies such as making fruit and vegetables more affordable and working with the food industry to reduce salt in processed foods.

The aim of this study was to estimate the potential reduction in CHD and stroke deaths achievable by specific and achievable decreases in consumption of salt, trans fat and saturated fat intake and increases in consumption of fruit and vegetables in the Irish Population. We looked at two scenarios using the validated IMPACT food policy model. One we termed conservative scenario and the other a substantial, but politically feasible option.'

The outcomes were clear.

  •  395 deaths could be prevented each year on the conservative scenario of reducing salt intake by 1gm per day, reducing trans fat by 0.5% of energy intake and saturated fat by 1% of energy intake, as well as consuming one additional portion of fruit or vegetables a day.
  • 1070 deaths from CHD and stroke (or one in four of current such deaths) could be prevented each year on the substantial, but politically feasible scenario of reducing salt intake by 3gm per day, reducing trans fat by 1% of energy intake and saturated fat by 3% of energy intake, as well as three additional portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

In 2011, dietary fat constituted 37% of the food energy intake for 18- to-64 year-olds in Ireland, with 63% of the population exceeding the recommended upper limit of 35% food energy from fat. 

According to Prof Perry,

'Such gaps in current food policy choices and the achievable dietary standards indicate the need for a paradigm shift in the current public health food policy interventions. We took leadership in the tobacco control with a comprehensive nationwide smoke free policy in 2004. Similar leadership is critical for legislating dietary food policies both at national and EU level'.

The WHO estimates that 80% of premature CHD and stroke deaths can be prevented and that even small reductions in incidence and mortality will lead to large population health gains and reductions in direct and indirect health costs. In Ireland alone CHD deaths fell by 50% between 1985 and 2006 as a result of population health measures in relation to smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol combined with improvements in treatment.

'Our study provides valuable evidence on the impact of population level changes in dietary intake. Achieving a modest improvement could save 395 lives each year. Doing nothing or simply monitoring the situation could result in dire public health consequences for the Irish Population, both in the short and the long term', concludes Prof Perry.

The work of the HRB Centre for Diet and Health is coordinated by the Principal Investigator, Professor Ivan Perry, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Cork. The Centre involves co-Principal Investigators from UCC, University College Dublin, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, Teagasc, and University of Ulster. The group are actively engaged in collaborative research activities relating to health and diet, in particular the prevention and management of obesity and diabetes.

Any media queries about this research should be directed through the UCC press office at the second link underneath this article.

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