Poor nutritional choices, including a high intake of ultra-processed foods and trans-fats, are putting millions of Europeans at an increased risk of a range of chronic digestive diseases, including digestive cancers, wheat related disorders and functional GI disorders, as well as obesity, a new report shows.
Nutrition and Chronic Digestive Diseases, launched today by United European Gastroenterology (UEG) and supported by eleven medical associations, patient organisations and NGOs, canvasses the opinion of a number of leading experts in the fields of nutrition, digestive cancers, liver diseases, functional gastrointestinal disorders and paediatrics.
The Ultra-processed Food Endemic
The report outlines how ultra-processed foods, which are often high in fat, added sugar and salt, now frequently contribute to up to half of modern European energy intake and, in some countries, over 75 percent of mean energy intake.
Consumption of ultra-processed foods has dramatically increased in recent decades, with common examples including soft drinks, confectionary, crisps and frozen ready meals. Studies have shown that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cancer and suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of these food types may be driving the growing cancer burden. A 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet, for example, is associated with a 12 percent increased overall cancer risk.
In addition to a raised risk of chronic diseases, high consumption of these foods also increases the prevalence of obesity. Alarmingly, over half (52 percent) of the EU’s population aged 18 and over is now overweight or obese and 1 in 3 of Europe’s school children are estimated to be overweight.
“Obesity, often driven by poor nutritional choices, increases the risk of a range of serious digestive health conditions and causes a significant healthcare burden, high societal costs, misery for patients and, ultimately, shortens lives,” explains Professor Markus Peck, Department of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Klinikum Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Austria. “Healthy balanced diets and lifestyles can help prevent chronic digestive diseases but the difficulty we face is ensuring our citizens make the right choices in following these lifestyles.”
An Action Plan for Europe
The report makes a number of recommendations in order to reduce the risk and impact of chronic digestive diseases, including:
- Less than 10 percent (<50 grams), but ideally 5 percent, of total daily energy intake of sugar
- Less than 10 percent of total daily energy intake of saturated fats
- Less than 1 percent of total daily energy intake of trans-fats
- Less than 5g of salt per day
“We need the European Commission and national governments to act now on initiatives to change the way in which we buy and consume food,” states Professor Peck. “Our aim should be to achieve a European-wide transformation to healthy diets by 2050. This would require the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to be reduced by more than 50 percent over the next 30 years.”
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