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Diet and nutrition: introduction

What is healthy eating?

For advice and information regarding healthy eating see:

The effects of diet and nutrition on health

Good nutrition throughout life is essential to good health. Eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and tooth decay (WHO/FAO, 2003).

Poor diet and nutrition is a major cause of ill-health and premature death in Scotland. After smoking, poor eating habits are the second major cause of poor health and chronic disease in Scotland. The two leading causes of death in Scotland are cancer and coronary heart disease (CHD). An estimated one-third of all cases of CHD are attributable to diet (WHO World Health Report, 2002). Dietary factors are also thought to play a role in about one-third of all cancer deaths, although the links between specific dietary components and cancer are less well established than those between diet and CHD (Doll and Peto (1981)). Colorectal (bowel) cancer, the third most common cancer in both men and women in Scotland, appears to be linked to high consumption of red and processed meats and alcohol whereas dietary fibre appears to be protective (Diet and cancer report, World Cancer Research Fund, 2007). Meanwhile, increasing intake of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of many chronic diseases (WHO/FAO, 2003).

The influence of diet and nutrition on health and wellbeing begins pre-conception, with maternal diet being found to play a role in health in later life (The influence of maternal, fetal and child nutrition on the development of chronic disease in later life, SACN 2011) (3.50MB). In childhood and young adulthood, healthy eating is vital to brain and body development and the formation of eating habits in early years is important. There are growing concerns about poor nutrition and diet among children and young people, including increased consumption of foods high in saturated fats, added sugar, NMES (non-milk extrinsic sugar) and salt. An associated issue is the rising level of overweight and obesity among children and later as adults (see the obesity section for further information). Scotland's children also have one of the worst records of dental decay in the western world - for more information see the oral health section of this website.

Although outwith the scope of these web pages, it is worth noting that the health of a proportion of the population may be affected by allergy to, or intolerance of, certain foods as well as food-borne disease (eg gastro-intestinal infections caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter species, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)).

Page last updated: 12 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014