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Diet, overweight and obesity

Diet and heart health

The role of diet is crucial in the development and prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Diet is a key modifiable risk factor for CVD.

Change in eating habits

  • Human beings’ average weight is increasing. The latter half of the 20th century saw major changes to daily diets, moving from plant-based diets to high-fat, animal-based diets
  • The obesity epidemic is spreading to low- and middle-income countries as a result of new dietary habits and sedentary ways of life, fuelling chronic diseases and premature mortality

Components of a healthy diet

  • A healthy diet is low in saturated fats, salts and refined carbohydrates and high in fruit and vegetables. As well as this, eating whole grains, at least two servings of fish a week, and nuts can reduce the risk of CVD
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends individuals to:
    • Limit energy intake from total fats and shift fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of transfatty acids
    • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains and nuts. Adults should consume at least 500g of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.
    • Limit the intake of free sugars and salt (sodium) consumption from all sources . Recent guidance recommends eating less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day

Overweight and obesity

  • Overweight and obesity are classified by an individual’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is measured by dividing a person’s weight by their height squared in metres
  • In adults, overweight is defined as a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2; obesity is defined as a BMI of 30.0 kg/m2 or greater

Facts & figures: prevalence

  • Latest projections from the WHO indicate that globally in 2005 approximately 1.6 billion adults aged 15 and above were overweight; at least 400 million adults were obese
  • The WHO further projects that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese
  • Once considered a problem only in high-income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings

Impact of obesity on heart health

  • Obesity is an independent risk factor for CVD
  • An overweight person may develop hypertension, type-2 diabetes and musculoskeletal disorder, putting them at high risk of CVD
    • Increased body weight leads to increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes and incidence of hypertension rises. Statistics show that 58 per cent of diabetes mellitus globally and 21 per cent of chronic heart disease are attributable to a BMI above 21
    • Excess fat can also affect an individual’s blood pressure and blood lipid levels and interferes with their ability to use insulin effectively

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