Britons have the worst diet in Europe, research suggests.
More than half of the food found in the average Briton’s household is highly-processed, which is driving the obesity epidemic and putting people at risk of heart disease and strokes, a Brazilian study found.
Processed food consumption, such as eating ready meals, biscuits and salami, in the UK is five times higher than in Portugal and nearly four times greater than in France, Greece or Italy, the research adds.
The researchers also found that for every one per cent increase in processed food availability in people’s homes, the risk of obesity rises by 0.25 per cent.
Described as a ‘public health disaster zone’, the researchers are urging for highly-processed foods to be made less available and affordable via taxes.
More than half of the food found in the average Briton’s household is highly-processed (stock)
WHAT ARE PROCESSED FOODS?
A processed food has been altered in some way during its preparation.
This can be via freezing, canning, baking or drying.
Examples include breakfast cereals, pastries, crisps, microwave meals, cakes, bread and tinned vegetables.
Processed foods are not necessarily unhealthy unless sugar, salt or fat are added to make them more palatable or extend their shelf life.
This can lead to people eating more than the recommended allowance of sugar, salt and fat a day as they unaware of the levels in processed foods.
People can reduce their intake by reading nutrition labels on processed products to check their fat, salt and sugar content.
Cooking food from scratch also gives people more control over their diets.
It is worth noting some healthy foods require processing, such as pressing olives to make oil.
Source: NHS Choices
How the research was carried out
The researchers, from the University of São Paulo, analysed 19 countries in Europe.
They estimated how much highly-processed foods people in each region consume based on surveys conducted between 1991 and 2008.
Surveys also determined obesity prevalence.
‘Public health disaster zone’
Results further reveal 50.4 per cent of foods found in the average Briton’s household are highly processed.
This is compared to 46.2 per cent in Germany, 13.4 per cent in Italy and 10.2 per cent in Portugal.
Speaking to the Independent, Tim Lang, Professor of food policy at City University, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘The British diet in general is a public health disaster zone. We have a terrible problem with diet-related ill health.’
The findings were published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Why are processed foods unhealthy?
Processed foods can be bad for people’s health if they have been chemically altered and are made from refined, artificial substances.
They are often high in ‘hidden’ sugar, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
High levels of sugar, salt and fat also makes such foods addictive, leading to overconsumption.
Processed foods also tend to be low in nutrients and fibre, which can lead to constipation.