Diabetes, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s and coronary disease accounted for the single-largest burden on the public purse in the UK – an estimated £148bn per annum – according to an eminent nutritionist.
University of Cambridge’s Nita Forouhi, a Professor of Population Health and Nutrition and an honorary consultant with Public Health England, said the “trilemma” facing society – the relationship between diet, environmental sustainability and health – could only be solved by farmers, food producers, food retailers, scientists and regulators coming together.
Prof Forouhi, giving the keynote speech at a debate on farming, food and health at Queen’s University Belfast, the idea of “food as medicine” was a game-changer .
During her address to the Growing a Healthy Society – The Role of Food event, organised by the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s, in partnership with the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), she said that by encouraging better diets, public health could be improved. This, in turn, would ease the burden on the health service and economy.
It had only been in recent years, she added, that it had been proven, for example, that diabetes could be reversed through diet.
Asked what constituted a healthy diet, particularly in terms of weight loss, she said he best diet was “the one you can stick to”.
Responding to her points was a panel of experts, including Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Health, NI; Professor Alice Stanton of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin; and Justin Coleman, Technical Director at Moy Park Chicken.
Radio presenter Anna Hill, from Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, chaired the discussion.
Prof Stanton said that nutritional risks had “taken over from cigarette smoking as the biggest killer”.
She said the current emphasis on eating less meat was driven by environmental arguments, rather than health. Her research indicated red meat caused “less than one per cent of nutrition-related deaths” and that, eaten in moderation (two to five times per week), red meat actually had a positive effect on health.
A diverse audience in the Great Hall at Queen’s included all the directors of the Oxford Farming Conference; former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Patterson; and Professor Chris Elliott, founder of IGFS.
After the event, Matt Naylor, Chair of OFC 2020, said: “Agriculture can offer so many solutions to the societal and environmental challenges that we currently face. We were delighted to partner with IGFS to open this conversation ahead of our conference proper next January.”