Non-communicable diseases such as 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 from the University of Cambridge who gave the keynote at a debate on farming, food and health at Queen’s University Belfast .
Nita Forouhi, a Professor of Population Health and Nutrition and an honorary consultant with Public Health England was addressing 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).
Referring to the recent Eat Lancet report, she 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.
The idea of “food as medicine” was a game-changer – that by encouraging better diets, public health could be improved, easing the burden on the health service and our 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. Well-known radio presenter Anna Hill, from Radio 4’s Farming Today programme, chaired the discussion.
In her comments, Professor Alice 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 1% 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; the former Secretary of State for NI, the Rt Hon Owen Patterson MP; 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.”