The findings of this massive study in the UK take ‘return on investment’ to an entirely new level… up to an extra decade added to your life.
With each pang of hunger or craving, a choice emerges: opt for foods deemed healthy or succumb to comforting indulgences. While not always easy, research underscores the considerable health benefits of embracing a healthier diet, especially in the long run.
As reported by Science Alert, a recent study scrutinising food intake data and health outcomes of almost half a million UK residents unveils a compelling revelation – transitioning to a healthy diet and staying committed to it could potentially extend life by up to a decade. Exciting news, with a caveat – affordability.
Conducted by a team led by Lars Fadnes, a public health researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway, the study modelled life expectancy for 467,354 individuals participating in the long-running UK Biobank study since 2006.
Participants were categorised based on eating patterns, distinguishing between average and unhealthy eaters, those adhering to the UK’s Eatwell Guide, and others following a regimen termed the ‘longevity diet.’
Post-adjustments for smoking, alcohol, and physical activity, the findings indicate that individuals aged 40 who sustained a shift from an unhealthy diet to adopting the Eatwell Guide recommendations could gain approximately nine years in life expectancy.
Moreover, those forsaking sugary drinks and processed meats in favour of a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and moderate fish intake (the longevity diet) could add an extra decade to their life expectancy.
While smaller gains were noted among those initially on an average diet and those improving eating habits later in life, the researchers highlight a direct correlation – the more substantial the shift towards a healthier diet, the larger the expected gains in life expectancy.
Even at the age of 70, individuals making sustained changes towards healthier eating, aligning with the Eatwell Guide or the ‘longevity diet’, could potentially extend their life expectancy by four to five years.
Katherine Livingstone, a population nutrition researcher at Deakin University, expressed excitement but not surprise over the substantial health benefits of dietary changes, emphasizing that it’s never too late to make small, sustained alterations for a healthier diet.
While the study focuses on the UK, expanding geographical ranges in such studies, the limitations of population-level data apply. For instance, the UK Biobank lacks data on rice consumption, impacting its generalizability.
Predominantly describing individuals of a White European, middle- to upper-class background, the UK Biobank data confines general applicability. Recognising the challenge of maintaining lifestyle changes over time, the researchers underscore that dietary patterns can be fluid.
For some, the challenge isn’t motivation but access. While health authorities advocate for a healthy diet, access to affordable, nutritious food remains a systemic challenge. The researchers emphasise the role of food taxes and subsidies, aiming to make healthy food more affordable. A 2017 study estimated that such policies, taxing unhealthy items like sugary drinks while subsidising healthy options, could save 60,000 lives in the US annually.
Enhancing food environments in schools and workplaces by eliminating vending machines and offering healthier options could genuinely impact public health, not to mention the environment.
Published in Nature Food, this study underscores the transformative potential of dietary choices on longevity while highlighting the systemic challenges that need humanity’s collective attention.
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