Drug link would increase fruit and veg consumption

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

If fruits and vegetables were premature death-reducing drugs, we'd be making millions
If fruits and vegetables were premature death-reducing drugs, we'd be making millions

Related tags Nutrition

Millions of pounds could be made if the benefits of fruit and vegetables were marketed more like pharmaceutical drugs, one of the country’s leading dieticians has claimed in response to a new study.

Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, said a new study showing the effects of eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, on more than 800,000 consumers, was a real “granddaddy of a study”.

“If this was a drug and you said, if you take this drug, it will reduce your risk of premature death by 25%, we would be making millions with drugs companies,” ​Collins, who is also a British Dietetic Association representative, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday (July 30).

16 worldwide studies

The study, carried out by Professor Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, analysed 16 worldwide studies from the US, Asia and Europe.

Findings from the study also dismissed a previous study​ of 56,000 English people, which led to calls for the recommended daily intake (RDI) for fruit and vegetables to rise from five to seven.

In his research, Hu agreed that, for every portion of fruit and vegetables consumed, there was a lower risk of premature death.

“However, what’s interesting is that we found that the benefits of fruit and vegetables of reducing mortality plateaued at around five servings per day of fruit and vegetables intake,” ​he told the Today programme.

The risk of premature death fell by up to 5% for every extra portion of fruit and vegetables, up to five servings a day, but not beyond, said Hu.

“Yet, the current consumption ​[of fruit and vegetables] varies in the general population … at around two or three servings a day,” ​he added.

“So, to reach ​the recommended five portions, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Poor fruit and vegetable consumption

Poor fruit and vegetable consumption in the UK was also highlighted by Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, who said: “The majority of people in England are not eating enough fruit and vegetables with the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey data from 2008 to 2012 showing that only 30% of adults and 41% of older adults met the five-a-day recommendation.”

Such figures have led to calls from scientists and campaign groups to increase the RDI for fruits and vegetables, but this was unnecessary, argued Collins.

“We’ve known for a very long time, probably for more than 15 years, that the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for five a day has health benefits and that’s been consistently shown throughout that time,”​ she said.

“Since then, the little blip[report]from a couple of months ago looked at just English people. It looked at a smaller study and the statistical analysis was slightly strange.”

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