By Susanne Løgstrup and Marleen Kestens, European Heart Network
In October 2017 the European Heart Network (EHN) published a paper on the evidence on the links between diet and cardiovascular disease – Transforming European food and drink policies for cardiovascular health.
The paper emphasises the significant impact of food and food systems on cardiovascular health. The report shows that dietary risks are a major contributor to cardiovascular disease (CVD), responsible for 56% of all the years lost to disability or death from CVD in the European region. In the EU, dietary risks are responsible for 49% of the CVD burden, at an estimated annual cost of €102 billion attributed to diet-related CVD.
A set of population goals provides clear pointers towards a cardiovascular health promoting diet for Europe. Taken together, these population goals translate into a cardiovascular health promoting diet. Such a diet means a shift from an animal-based diet to a more plant-based diet. It includes vegetables, fruit and berries in abundance. Whole grain products, nuts and seeds, fish, pulses, low fat dairy products are also important, as are non-tropical vegetable oils in modest amounts. This dietary pattern limits consumption of red meat, processed meat products and foods or drinks which are low in vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre and/or high in free sugars, saturated/trans fats or salt. A diverse and balanced diet covers the need for nutrients, and food supplements are rarely needed.
In a perfect world people would buy and eat different foods to reflect this evidence and advice, and markets would respond to the changes in demand. In today’s complex food systems, however, the ‘market’ does not function perfectly and there are many other forces – often powerful – driving the food supply in addition to consumer demand. Major economic and policy drivers determine what food is produced, what is imported and how foods are marketed. Many of these global and external factors are well beyond the reach of individual governments, posing real challenges for policymakers. The complex picture also means, however, that there are many different points along the food chain where policymakers can take action to improve diets.
EHN’s paper includes three overarching recommendations, one of which is to develop an integrated health and environment approach to food systems and promote health-environment win-wins in food-based dietary guidelines. Amongst other recommendations figures one to establish a global food convention.
There is now a growing body of reports supporting urgent and robust governmental intervention at an international level. In Europe, the Austrian EU Presidency, which took place in the second half of 2018, held a conference on People’s Food – People’s Health. Towards healthy and sustainable European Food Systems. EHN believes that major EU policy makers can no longer turn a deaf ear to the evidence and should take advantage of opportunities to implement essential changes, for example, the current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
 Transforming European food and drink policies for cardiovascular health. European Heart Network (2017)