Fruit and vegetable intake linked to declining global health

11 June 2019

A new study reveals that a lower intake of fruit and vegetables may account for millions of cardiovascular deaths.
Tiffany Hionas

Findings from the Global Dietary Database 2010 and Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, US, have revealed that roughly one in seven cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to not eating enough fruit, while one in 12 cardiovascular deaths are attributed to not eating enough vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are considered good sources of fibre, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants and phenolics, which reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. People who consume more fruits and vegetables are also less likely to be overweight, reducing the chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Low fruit intake had a higher rate in cardiovascular deaths than low vegetable intake, with nearly 1.8m cardiovascular deaths attributed to low fruit intake in 2010. 

Victoria Miller, the lead study author and researcher at Tufts, said: ‘Fruits and vegetables are a modifiable component of diet that can impact preventable deaths globally,’ and suggested that these ‘findings indicate the need for population-based efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption throughout the world.’

Researchers compared diet surveys and food availability data across 113 countries with data on causes of death in each country and cardiovascular risks associated with inadequate fruit and vegetables intake, to estimate the average national intake of fruit and vegetables.

According to 2010 data, scientists have released a set of estimated results, backing the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and cardiovascular risks. They determined that:

  • Sub-optimal fruit consumption results in approx. 1.3m deaths from stroke
  • There are more than 520,000 deaths from coronary heart disease worldwide annually
  • Approximately 200,000 deaths from stroke and 800,000 deaths from coronary heart disease due to sub-optimal vegetable consumption occur annually

Countries in South Asia, East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa were impacted the most, suffering high rates of associated stroke deaths, as a result of the poor intake of fruit and vegetables.

Miller also noted that younger adults had greater chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease deaths because of sub-optimal fruit and vegetable intake. By gender, males were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease deaths, as women tend to consume more fruits and vegetables.

In recent years, nutritional concern has arguably centred on vitamin supplements, calorie intake, and reduction on additives like sugar and salt. However, this research suggests the need to expand this focus to increasing the availability, access and consumption of foods such as fruits and vegetables.

This research also implies the need for behaviour change interventions to promote the positive message around fruits and vegetables, and therefore improve global health.

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