Fruit and veg reduce heart disease death, but more still dying in bush

If all Australians met dietary and physical activity guidelines equally, there would still be far more people dying of heart disease in the country compared with the city.

The study, Comparison of CVD mortality if attainment of public health recommendations was achieved in metropolitan and rural Australia, looked at the most effective lifestyle changes to reduce the number of deaths from heart disease – Australia’s biggest killer.  It examined a range of lifestyle factors including eating five serves vegetables and two serves of fruit daily, eating enough fibre, limiting salt and fat intake, reducing alcohol intake, not smoking, and completing 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

It found if everyone could meet the recommended fruit and vegetable intake that would see the biggest decline across the nation.  The gap between the rural would be reduced by 40 %, which is a significant effect and shows the importance of lifestyle factors to reduce heart disease mortality across all population groups.

But the study also revealed that no matter what lifestyle targets were met, a larger proportion of people in regional areas would continue to die from heart disease.

Lead researcher, Dr Laura Alston from the Institute’s Global Obesity Centre concluded there is so much more to this issue than rural lifestyles.

“Often we hear the message that if we could all meet these benchmarks then rural populations would be just as healthy as those in the cities, but what our data shows is that even if those in our regions ate according to dietary guidelines and did as much exercise as possible, they would still be worse off when it came to death from heart disease,” she said.

“There needs to be more research into the factors behind this health gap. “We need to look at the bigger picture, beyond a focus on people meeting individual guidelines. We need to better understand the important environmental factors too, so no matter where you live it’s a health promoting environment.”

The project team includes Dr Laura Alston, Ms Jane Jacobs, Professor Steven Allender and Dr Melanie Nichols.