01.03.2013 Little change on Switzerland's nutrition front
6th Swiss Nutrition Report. The typical inhabitant of Switzerland continues to eat too much sweet and salty food and too little fruit and vegetables, despite being aware of the most important recommendations on a healthy diet. Excessive bodyweight is still one of the country's most serious health problems. The availability of data on the nutritional status of the Swiss continues to be unsatisfactory. These are some of the findings of the 6th Swiss Nutrition Report, which, along with the Swiss Nutrition Policy 2013–2016, was unveiled by government minister Alain Berset, Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, on 22 January 2013.
The Swiss Nutrition Reports of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) are published every seven years and present the current situation regarding nutrition in Switzerland. The latest report contains chapters on "Current dietary recommendations", "Nutritional situation in Switzerland", "Nutrition and health" and "Nutritional measures for health promotion". While the last such report (from 2005) was 1000 pages long, the current one has only 300. The main findings and conclusions are presented below:
1. Overweight: stabilisation at a high level?
There are, for the first time, indications that the incidence of overweight and obesity is not increasing as much as in the past, a finding that applies to children as well as adults. However, obesity and overweight are still widespread and cause substantial direct and indirect health-related costs of about 5.8 billion francs a year (2006 figure).
2. Cardiovascular disease: obese particularly affected
Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in Switzerland. Nine to fourteen per cent of all fatalities from cardiovascular disease are attributable to obesity. The obese are at about twice as much risk of dying from cardiovascular disease as normal-weighted people.
3. A healthy diet reduces the risk of cancer
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Switzerland. Tobacco use is one of the main cancer-associated risk factors that it is possible to influence. A number of dietary factors also have an effect on the risk of developing cancer. A diet with a high proportion of plant-based products, but little red meat and alcohol, can reduce the risk of contracting certain types of cancer.
4. Dietary recommendations: quantity and quality are important
Besides recommendations on quantities (e.g. 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day), quality recommendations are also important. With regard to fats and oils, people nowadays are advised to watch not only how much they consume, but also the particular type of fat or oil: for instance, increased use of rapeseed or olive oils is recommended.
5. Positive trend in fat consumption
Quality recommendations regarding fat consumption have been much better heeded in Switzerland in recent years. Consumption of plant-based fats (rapeseed or olive oils, for instance) has grown in the last 20 years, while that of animal fats (for instance, butter or lard) has declined. Fish consumption – and thus the intake of beneficial fatty acids – has grown by just under 50% over the last 30 years.
6. Not enough vegetables, fruit or dairy products
Less attention is paid to recommendations on vegetables, fruit, milk and other dairy products: 91 per cent of men and 83 per cent of women eat fewer than three portions of vegetables a day. The recommendation to eat "5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day" is followed by only 21 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women. 90 per cent of people living in Switzerland eat fewer than three portions of milk or dairy products a day.
7. Too much salt
Average daily salt intake per person is still 11 grams (for men) and 8 grams (for women). The Swiss Salt Strategy is aimed at reducing intake by 16 per cent to less than 8 grams and, in the long term, to the 5 grams recommended by the WHO.
8. Low level of dietary awareness
By their own admission, just under 30 per cent of people living in Switzerland do not follow any particular guidelines when deciding what to eat. Now as in the past, little importance is attached to diet as a means of preventing disease or protecting health.
9. Various nutrient deficiencies
A number of studies show that provision of the following nutrients is not always adequate in certain sectors of the population: iodine, iron, folic acid (women of childbearing age) and vitamin D (older people and infants).
10. Interventions targeting specific groups
Men, young people and socio-economically disadvantaged sectors of the population have lower-than-average awareness and knowledge of dietary issues and are thus most at risk of contracting a diet-related disease. They should be specifically targeted in future dietary interventions, bearing in mind that the most important prerequisite for successful targeted interventions is a good understanding of the target group, its lifestyle and dietary habits.
11. Food labelling in need of improvement
For many consumers, current food labelling practices are too complicated and hard to understand. This is partly because a number of parallel labelling systems are used in Switzerland. A standardised and comprehensible system of labelling nutritional values would make it easier for consumers to find their way around the food offer and help them make healthy choices. People with low-level nutritional skills could benefit particularly from such a solution.
12. Data situation: insufficient and with gaps
The data situation as regards nutrition and health in Switzerland continues to be inadequate. It does not permit any conclusions to be drawn regarding either individual food intake or specific nutrient provision within different sectors of the population. In addition, Switzerland does not have any representative figures on the incidence of diet-related diseases or of overweight in children.
Basis for national strategies
The 6th Swiss Nutrition Report forms the cornerstone of the Swiss Nutrition Policy 2013–2016 (formerly "Nutrition Policy") that was published concurrently with it. The six fields of action of the Swiss Nutrition Policy lay down priorities and goals in the field of nutrition and provide the different institutions involved with a basis for drawing up the corresponding action plans and measures. The 6th Swiss Nutrition Report and the Swiss Nutrition Policy also influence the priorities set in the FOPH's National Programme on Diet and Physical Activity (NPDPA). Within the framework of this National Programme, the FOPH will above all plan and implement measures at the structural level. The "actionsanté" initiative, which is aimed at persuading industry to play a greater role in this area, the improvement of food content and the expansion of the data available will continue. The FOPH's measures will, wherever possible, be implemented on a voluntary basis and in cooperation with the corresponding interest groups from the business, education and other fields.
Where is there a need for action?
According to the authors of the 6th Swiss Nutrition Report, the priority goals for improving the nutrition situation in Switzerland are to expand the available data, review food recipes, optimise the quality of out-of-home catering, improve food labelling and strengthen people's skills in the areas of health and diet. This calls for cooperation among a range of institutions active in the nutrition, health, business, education and agriculture fields. At the political level, there is a need for more multisectoral cooperation to ensure that health promotion and prevention become a factor in all areas of politics.
Andrea Renggli, Nutritional and Toxicological Risks Section, firstname.lastname@example.org