By Prof Susan Jebb - University of Oxford
Eating chocolate
Chocolate: difficult to resist for many

Poor diet is the leading modifiable risk factor for ill health in the UK.

That is not the grandiose claim of a nutrition evangelist - it's the verdict from the Global Burden of Disease Study.

This found that more than 12% of the burden of ill health was attributable to dietary risk factors. And if we add the risk from being overweight too, it's more than 20%.

On average in the UK, we eat too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt and too little fibre.

"Research shows much of our behaviour in relation to food or indeed physical activity, is not a conscious, deliberative act”

If people ate more healthily, more than 33,000 premature deaths could be prevented each year.

We've been talking about the problem for ages, but so far we have seen only very modest changes.

Public confusion about the messages doesn't help - witness the latest debate which pitches fat against sugar when the science tells us clearly that both are of concern.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has stressed the need to focus on preventing disease to ensure the future viability of the NHS - and the general economy.

But despite widespread acceptance of the mantra "prevention is better than cure", prevention remains the Cinderella of medicine.

Investment needed

The shift we need to make in our approach to healthcare is fundamental and it is going to take real investment in prevention now to reduce treatment costs later.

Research into effective interventions is vital to give us confidence that investment in prevention will reap the dividends in terms of improvements in health.