Bulletin of the World Health Organization

The global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables: implications for the global strategy on diet

Karen Lock, Joceline Pomerleau, Louise Causer, Dan R. Altmann, & Martin McKee

ABSTRACT

Objective

We estimated the global burden of disease attributable to low consumption of fruit and vegetables, an increasingly recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer, and compared its impact with that of other major risk factors for disease.

Methods

The burden of disease attributable to suboptimal intake of fruit and vegetables was estimated using information on fruit and vegetable consumption in the population, and on its association with six health outcomes (ischaemic heart disease, stroke, stomach, oesophageal, colorectal and lung cancer). Data from both sources were stratified by sex, age and by 14 geographical regions.

Findings

The total worldwide mortality currently attributable to inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables is estimated to be up to 2.635 million deaths per year. Increasing individual fruit and vegetable consumption to up to 600 g per day (the baseline of choice) could reduce the total worldwide burden of disease by 1.8%, and reduce the burden of ischaemic heart disease and ischaemic stroke by 31% and 19% respectively. For stomach, oesophageal, lung and colorectal cancer, the potential reductions were 19%, 20%, 12% and 2%, respectively.

Conclusion

This study shows the potentially large impact that increasing fruit and vegetable intake could have in reducing many noncommunicable diseases. It highlights the need for much greater emphasis on dietary risk factors in public health policy in order to tackle the rise in noncommunicable diseases worldwide, and suggests that the proposed intersectoral WHO/FAO fruit and vegetable promotion initiative is a crucial component in any global diet strategy.

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