Living longer: the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to a healthy lifestyle

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Eating a healthy diet is key to living well and reducing the risk of developing many diseases. While traditional healthy eating advice is focused on avoiding too much fat, an increasing number of studies emphasize the importance of avoiding highly processed foods such as ready meals and processed meat.

BMC Medicine recently published results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study by Sabine Rohrmann and colleagues, showing that people who eat large amounts of processed meat have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and early death. In a commentary published this week in BMC Medicine, Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues from Harvard School of Public Health explore the implications of the EPIC study, highlighting how processed deli meats are sometimes promoted as “healthy choices”, but guidelines should prioritize avoiding these foods due to the high content of preservatives such as sodium.

The findings of the EPIC study attracted a great deal of media attention, with 47% of Guardian readers voting that they were put off eating processed meat. In BioMed Central’s new online magazine, Biome, we talk to Sabine Rohrmann about the study, and she discusses the importance of publishing research in an open-access journal so that readers can access the original study. Rohrmann describes how future research in this field will investigate the effects of different preservatives used in processed meat, as well as methods of meat preparation, on the risk of disease. We look forward to seeing these results and how they help to shape dietary guidelines in the future.

The importance of eating a healthy diet to avoid excessive weight gain and the associated complications was discussed extensively at the 20th European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Liverpool last week. Miguel Ángel Martínez González described the results of PREDIMED, the first primary prevention trial to show that eating a Mediterranean diet decreases cardiovascular risk. Martínez González discussed how these findings will be extended in the PREDIMED plus trial, which will investigate the benefits of minimizing processed food consumption and increasing physical activity in addition to a Mediterranean diet. Exercise interventions were another key theme of the conference, with presentations focusing on how physical activity can have positive effects independently of weight loss.

A very controversial topic in obesity research at present is whether weight loss surgery should be given to patients who are obese but have a body mass index (BMI) below 35. Luca Busetto explained how there is limited evidence to show that surgery prevents the development of type 2 diabetes in these patients, and concluded that the benefits do not outweigh the risks. On the other hand, Martin Fried argued that surgery has profound effects on diabetes remission and should be considered in all obese patients. Interestingly, the US FDA advises that weight loss surgery should be given to those with obesity-related diabetes and a BMI between 30 and 40, whereas in the UK surgery is only recommended for those with a BMI greater than 35 where diet and exercise interventions have failed. The audience voted for a cautious approach to weight loss surgery in these patients.

Discussions at ECO highlighted that a multidisciplinary approach is required to tackle the obesity epidemic. Diet, education, physical activity, motivation and medical interventions are all key to living a healthy lifestyle and reducing the risk of early death.