FSA launches saturated fat campaign to help prevent heart disease, the UK’s biggest killer
Tuesday 10 February 2009
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today launches a public health campaign to raise awareness of the health risks of eating too much saturated fat.
The UK is currently eating 20% more saturated fat than UK Government recommendations. The campaign will promote a range of simple, positive and practical steps we can take to help improve our health and reduce the risk of developing diet-related illness.
Long term, a diet high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, which is a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases, such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, angina and stroke – or cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the most common cause of death in the UK and in 2006 was responsible for around one in three premature deaths1. Diet is a key risk factor in heart disease and it is estimated that cutting our intake of saturated fat could prevent up to 3,500 premature deaths a year, saving the UK economy more than £1 billion a year in related costs2.
The FSA’s activity includes a graphic 40-second TV advertisement illustrating that saturated fat can come from a variety of everyday foods and shows what a build up of fatty deposits could do to the heart over time. The setting is a typical fridge in an average home. A jug of saturated fat is poured down the sink, overloading and blocking a kitchen pipe to vividly bring to life the message that too much saturated fat is bad for your heart.
The health message is supported by a series of print advertisements that show how easy it is to make simple yet effective changes to the way we shop, cook and eat. Straightforward tips to reduce saturated fat intake include: cutting the fat off meat; switching to lower fat dairy products; and using vegetable oils instead of butter when cooking – all designed to help shift people’s everyday habits with the aim of improving the nation’s overall diet related health.
The case for this campaign is highlighted by FSA research published today which reveals that nearly half the UK (48%) thought that there was no need to worry about how much saturated fat they ate if, for example, they took regular exercise, were not overweight or ate lots of fruit and vegetables3.
Tim Smith, Food Standards Agency Chief Executive, said:
'People say they do know that saturated fat is bad for them but they don’t necessarily link it to heart disease and what they are eating. It’s important they make that connection, because heart disease is the UK’s number one killer - one in three of us will die as a result. There are simple ways we can cut down the amount of saturated fat we all eat and protect our health. We need to eat leaner meat and a bit less cheese, switch to lower fat milks and eat healthier snacks, cutting down on cakes and biscuits.
'Supermarkets and manufacturers have done some good work so that now when we’re shopping there is an increasing range of lower saturated fat foods available and better labelling, and we’d like to see more of this. It is important that we work together to increase the variety of healthier foods available and continue to address this important public health issue together.'
As well as support from major supermarkets, manufacturers and some caterers, the FSA is also backed by the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, Heart UK, National Federation of Women’s Institute and NetMums, working to ensure that those at risk from heart disease are reached by this campaign.
Public Health Minister Shona Robison said:
'What we choose to eat and the quantities we consume can make a big difference to our weight and also our long term health. That is why it is important that consumers are aware of the effects of a poor diet and are easily able to identify what is in the food they buy.
This campaign will support the Scottish Government's Take Life On awareness campaign which encourages everyone to adopt a healthier diet and be more active by making small, realistic changes to their lifestyle.'
Michael Livingston, HEART UK Director, said in support:
'The Cholesterol Charity, HEART UK, wholeheartedly supports the FSA's campaign to help people understand how too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. By focusing on practical swaps and changes that can easily be made, the campaign shows how simple it is to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat. It is important that we all become more aware of the small steps we can take, which can make a real difference to our own and importantly our families' risk of heart disease.'
Two new FSA surveys also published today show that people need to be reminded that heart disease can affect anyone, and that the risk is significantly heightened if their diet is high in saturated fat. Of the people surveyed as part of the FSA’s annual survey of Public Attitudes to Food Issues (PAFI):
- 94% of people had heard of saturated fat and
- 61% stated we should be eating less,
and yet the UK continues to eat more than is recommended for our health.
A second consumer survey carried out to support the campaign revealed that people are also less concerned about the high incidence of CVD in the UK. Although CVD is responsible for one in three deaths, it was ranked as only the third biggest health risk after obesity and cancers.
This survey also revealed that many of us are unaware of simple changes we can make to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat:
- only a fifth (20%) of people choose to eat fish or poultry instead of red meat, only a quarter of people (24%) cut the white bits off the meat and a fifth (20%) choose meat with less white on it – all options for reducing the amount of saturated fat in our food
- not even a third (29%) of people take the skin off chicken/poultry before cooking (or buy it without the skin), which reduces the saturated fat content
- less than half (43%) of people regularly grill their meat, which is a healthier way of cooking, while a tenth still fry their meat for extra flavour (11%)
- almost two thirds (63%) of people think that healthier foods are more expensive than unhealthier foods, highlighting the need for practical, cost-effective tips
These findings suggest that there is an opportunity for all of us to make simple changes, which will allow us to continue to enjoy a range of foods as part of a balanced diet, while reducing our intakes of saturated fat. How we can all make these simple changes is the focus of the campaign’s tips and the subject of the eleven print advertisements.
To coincide with the launch of the campaign, the Agency has introduced a new recipe section on its consumer advice website, eatwell.gov.uk.
All the recipes have been analysed nutritionally so users can see what each portion contains in terms of sat fat, fats, salt and sugar, and the traffic lights displayed accordingly. The recipes can also be searched by type of meal, and whether they are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and people who need to avoid nuts, gluten or dairy. People in a hurry can also look out for those that take less than half an hour to prepare - see link below.
Anyone with a mobile phone can get daily tips on cutting down on saturated fat by sending the text message 'SATFAT START' to the number 62372. You will then get a daily tip by text to your mobile phone for the next 30 days. To unsubscribe at any time, just text 'SATFAT STOP' to the same number.
Consumers can also remind themselves how to cut down on sat fat while browsing our recipes by downloading our eatwell fridge application onto your own computer. It will be available to download soon from the eatwell website.
1. Campaign background
The Agency's TV and media campaign goes live on 9 February and is set to run throughout February. This forms part of the Agency’s wider programme of campaigning activity around healthier eating. The campaign total is just under £3.5 million.
The diet of the average British adult contains too much saturated fat, added sugar and salt. Since 2004 the Agency has been working with industry to reformulate foods to reduce the amount of salt they contain, along with communicating the health impacts of a high-salt diet directly to consumers. It is now extending that focus to saturated fat and the balance of calories that we need for good health.
The Agency's saturated fat campaign supports the aims of the Scottish Governments Healthy Eating Active Living Action Plan by raising consumer understanding and awareness of saturated fat and working with the food industry to encourage the reformulation of products that contribute the most saturated fat to our diets.
The campaign is fully supported by the Scottish Government and printed materials for distribution are branded with both the FSA and Healthier Scotland logos.
Reformulation of foods in order to reduce the amount of saturated fat they contain presents a more complex technical challenge than reducing salt, where the Agency has been active since 2004. In some foods, saturated fat provides an important structural function as well as contributing to the tastes of products and reducing it is not as simple as producing lower salt foods.
2. Survey information
The research findings form part of two separate surveys: the Public Attitudes to Food Issues (PAFI), an annual survey conducted by the FSA to explore a range of topical food issues, including saturated fat; and a second survey, commissioned by the Agency, to examine consumer awareness and stated behaviour around saturated fat in more detail.
The Public Attitudes to Food Issues (PAFI) survey is a one-off survey and was conducted between October and November 2008 by GfK NOP. A total of 3,219 people across the UK were surveyed. The main aims of the research were:
- to establish the extent that particular attitudes towards food issues are held by the public
- to understand whether views are dependent on particular characteristics
- to understand whether views differ across the countries of the UK
The FSA’s consumer research on saturated fat was carried in December 2008. Questions were placed on the TNS RSGB face-to-face omnibus survey and a total of 2,305 adults across the UK were surveyed. The main aims of the research were to explore consumer awareness and stated behaviour associated with saturated fat.
In addition, FSA consumer qualitative research conducted in May 2007 showed that:
- there is little distinction between fat and saturated fat in people’s minds when talking about fat in the diet
- saturated fat intake is not really monitored and consumers are not always clear on where saturated fat comes from in their diet
- people are unclear about why some fats are needed for a balanced diet
- however, there is widespread recognition of the negative effects of saturated fat on health
For full details see link below - Consumer research on fats.
3. Evidence base
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends that people should consume no more than 11% of energy as saturated fat on average. This advice is based on recommendations from an independent advisory committee (Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, DH 1994) and is in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations on reducing the risk of diet related chronic disease (WHO 2003).
For full details see link below - Diet related chronic disease.
4. Highest contributors of saturated fat to the UK diet
Top five contributors for adults (according to NDNS 2000/2001 figures):
- dairy products, including cheese = 24% contribution to daily intake of sat fat
- meat and meat products, including meat pies, pastries and burgers = 22%
- fat spreads, including butter = 11%
- biscuits, buns, cakes and pastries = 8%
- chocolate confectionery = 5%
5. Heart UK
HEART UK - the Cholesterol Charity - works with research scientists, doctors, nurses and dieticians and provides support to all those at risk of cardiovascular disease due to raised cholesterol levels, especially those families who inherit high cholesterol conditions. The national charity is committed to:
- raising awareness about the risks of high cholesterol
- ensuring better detection of those at risk
- supporting health professional training and education
For more information on the work of HEART UK visit the website (see link below) or call the helpline on 0845 450 5988.
1 Heart Stats - see link below.
2 FSA 2007, Draft saturated fat and energy intake programme - see link below.
3 FSA 2009, Public Attitudes to Food Issues Survey
4 31% of respondents in the UK say that the biggest health concern facing the country is obesity/being overweight, followed in second place by cancers (29%) and in third by heart disease (21%).
External links The Food Standards Agency has no responsibility for the content of external websites
More advice from our eatwell website
6th Floor, St. Magnus House,
25 Guild Street,
Aberdeen AB11 6NJ
Tel: 01224 285120 or 285127
Fax: 01224 285167