BILTHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS. In 1958 five European countries, Japan, and the United States began a study to determine the most important causes of premature death from various chronic diseases. The study involved 12,763 middle-aged men who completed questionnaires regarding their nutrient intake and smoking status at the start of the study. After 25 years of follow-up 5973 (47 per cent) of the men had died. The researchers evaluating the collected data noticed large differences in saturated fat intake ranging from 3.9 per cent of energy in Japan to 22.7 per cent in East Finland. An eight- fold difference in vitamin C intake (17 mg/day in Serbia versus 142 mg/day in the USA) was also observed. Smoking was found to be almost twice as prevalent in Japan (78 per cent) as in Serbia (44 per cent) and alcohol intake ranged from 1.8 grams/day in East Finland to 91.2 grams/day in Croatia.
After analyzing all the data the researchers concluded that a high intake of saturated fat, smoking, and a low vitamin C intake are the most important predictors of early death among middle-aged men. They estimate that a 5 per cent reduction in the intake of saturated fats, a 10 per cent decrease in the number of smokers, and a 20 mg/day increase in vitamin C intake would decrease the 25-year all-cause population mortality rate by an impressive 12.4 per cent.
The researchers cite Poland as an example of the enormous effect that dietary changes
can have on overall mortality. After 20 years of rising coronary heart disease mortality a
25 per cent decrease was observed among men and women aged 45 to 64 years
between 1991 and 1994. They credit a 23 per cent decrease in the intake of animal fats,
a 48 per cent increase in vegetable fats, and a doubling in the imports of citrus fruits and
bananas for this positive development.