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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 11:25 GMT
Eat less processed food, say experts
More than one billion people around the world are obese
Processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity levels and chronic disease around the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

In a report published on Monday, it urged people to cut their intake of such foods, which are often high in saturated fats, sugar and salt.

The team of international scientists, who compiled the report, said eating more fruit and vegetables and exercising more were the best way to protect against chronic disease.

The scientists have set out new guidelines for healthy eating. These will be adopted by WHO as part of its new global strategy to reduce heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and dental disease.

The panel have urged people to eat a healthy balanced diet and to limit their intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats.

They warned that chronic diseases are caused not only by overeating but also by eating too much of the wrong types of food.

They also blamed changing lifestyles with fewer family meals eaten together and more children watching television or playing on computers rather than being outside.

The problem is particularly acute among people living in cities who, the reports says, are more likely to be exposed to "energy-dense" food and take less exercise.

Healthy eating

Their key recommendations on diet are:

  • carbohydrates should account for between 55% and 75% of diet

  • free sugars should remain beneath 10%

  • protein should make up between 10% and 15%

  • Fat should be limited to between 15% and 30% and saturated fat should be less than 10% of this total

  • Salt should be restricted to less than five grams a day

  • Intake of fruit and vegetables should be in the region of 400 grams a day.

    The scientists also agreed that physical activity is an important part of staying healthy.

    Their report suggests that people should undertake at least one hour of physical activity of moderate intensity each day.

    Dr Ricardo Uauy, chairman of the WHO expert group and professor of public health nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said improving eating habits would improve health.

    "People should eat less high-calorie foods, especially foods high in saturated fat and sugar, be physically active, prefer unsaturated for saturated fat and use less salt; enjoy fruits, vegetables and legumes and prefer foods of plant and marine origin."

    Billion overweight

    More than a billion people worldwide are now overweight, of whom at least 300 million are clinically obese, according to WHO.

    In the UK, the number of men considered obese has more than doubled from 8% in the 1980s to 17% now, while the rate for women has soared from 9% to 21%.

    The situation is mirrored among children with nearly one in five youngsters in England overweight.

    Tim Lang, professor of food policy at the City University, London, backed the report.

    "Probably the single fastest way to reduce strokes in this country is to halve the amount of salt that's added to processed food.

    "We also need to teach people basic cooking skills so they can turn fresh fruit and vegetables into things they want to eat."

    The Food and Drink Federation, which represents UK manufacturers, said: "The industry recognises it needs to play its part in helping people understand more about food and nutrition and believes any recommendations should be based on sound science."

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