International correlations between diet and disease incidence

World-wide there are very considerable differences in mortality from cancer and heart

Table 7.1 Secular changes in diet with changes in disease incidence — changes in diet in rural Wales between 1870 and 1970

1870

1970

Protein

11

11

% of energy

Fat

25

42

% of energy

Sugar

4

17

% of energy

Starch

60

30

% of energy

Unsaturated fat

19

9

% of total fat

Cholesterol

130

517

mg/day

Dietary fibre

65

21

g/day

disease. Incidence of breast cancer ranges from 34/million in the Gambia to 1002/ million in Hawaii and the incidence of prostate cancer from 12/million in the Gambia to 912/million among black Americans. Coronary heart disease accounts for 4.8% of deaths in Japan, but 31.7% of deaths in Northern Ireland.

Assuming that there are adequate and comparable data available for food consumption in different countries, it is possible to plot graphs such as that in Figure 7.1, which shows a highly significant positive association between fat consumption and breast cancer. It is important to note that this statistical correlation does not imply cause and effect; indeed, further analysis of the factors involved in breast cancer suggest that it is not dietary fat intake, but rather adiposity, or total body fat content, that is the important factor. Obviously, dietary fat intake is a significant factor in the development of obesity and high body fat reserves.

Figure 7.2 shows a highly significant negative correlation between mortality from coronary heart disease and the serum concentration of vitamin E, suggesting that vitamin E may be protective against the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

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