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Vegged out & fruitless: lifestyle & health

Last month's BMJ published another in the long line of research articles that highlight the huge importance of lifestyle choices for our health:

Dam, R. M. v., T. Li, et al. (2008). "Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality: prospective cohort study in US women." BMJ 337(sep16_2): a1440-  [Free Full Text]
Objective: To evaluate the impact of combinations of lifestyle factors on mortality in middle aged women.  Design: Prospective cohort study.  Setting: Nurses' health study, United States. Participants: 77,782 women aged 34 to 59 years and free from cardiovascular disease and cancer in 1980.  Main outcome measure: Relative risk of mortality during 24 years of follow-up in relation to five lifestyle factors (cigarette smoking, being overweight, taking little moderate to vigorous physical activity, no light to moderate alcohol intake, and low diet quality score).  Results: 8,882 deaths were documented, including 1,790 from cardiovascular disease and 4,527 from cancer.  Each lifestyle factor independently and significantly predicted mortality.  Relative risks for five compared with zero lifestyle risk factors were 3.26 (95% confidence interval 2.45 to 4.34) for cancer mortality, 8.17 (4.96 to 13.47) for cardiovascular mortality, and 4.31 (3.51 to 5.31) for all cause mortality.  A total of 28% (25% to 31%) of deaths during follow-up could be attributed to smoking and 55% (47% to 62%) to the combination of smoking, being overweight, lack of physical activity, and a low diet quality. Additionally considering alcohol intake did not substantially change this estimate.  Conclusions: These results indicate that adherence to lifestyle guidelines is associated with markedly lower mortality in middle aged women. Both efforts to eradicate cigarette smoking and those to stimulate regular physical activity and a healthy diet should be intensified.

You would think this kind of dramatic demonstration of healthy lifestyle's importance would have us all stopping smoking, exercising regularly and eating healthily.  Not so.  In an earlier post "Common sense isn't common" I described how rare it is for individuals to follow even basic healthy lifestyle advice.  A recent, widely reported, survey of UK fruit and vegetable intake makes this point again:

Fallon, A. (2008). Only 12% of Britons meet 'five a day' target for fruit and veg. Guardian. [Free Full Text]
Most Britons are not eating the daily recommended amount of fruit or vegetables, and most adults are not eating enough fibre, research has found.  The Department of Health advises that people should eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day to help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. But a study by the marketing group TNS found that only 12% of the population are adhering to the target, and another 12% eat no fruit and veg at all.  TNS analysed the spending habits of 25,000 households and the nutrition labels of 100,000 food and drink products bought from supermarkets.  On average, TNS found, Britons are consuming just 2.5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Children and the less well-off are most likely to fail the target, with the more affluent and those aged over 45 more likely to meet the guidelines.  Giles Quick, managing director of TNS Worldpanel UK usage panels, said: "While the need for five a day seems to be common knowledge, the number of us who actually achieve this is shockingly low."  However, almost half the people questioned claimed to be trying to increase their fruit intake, while almost two-fifths were aiming to eat more vegetables. There was some evidence, Quick said, that Britain was waking up to the importance of nutrition.

Don't be vegged out and fruitless!  There are some excellent resources out there on the web to help in making good choices.  For example, see the earlier post "Eat 5 to 9 portions of fruit & veg daily"

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