Objective: To estimate the burden of disease attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake in the 15 countries that were members of the European Union (EU) before May 2004 (EU-15) and the 10 countries that then joined it (EU-10).
Design: Data on fruit and vegetable intake, target levels of intake and estimates of relative risks, deaths and disability were combined to obtain the burden of ischaemic heart disease, ischaemic stroke and four types of cancer (lung/bronchus/trachea, stomach, oesophagus, and colon/rectum) attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption.
Setting: EU-15 and EU-10 Member States.
Results: The number of lives potentially saved annually from the selected outcomes if fruit and vegetable intake increased to 600 g person(-1) day(-1) reached 892,000 and 423,000 in the EU-15 and EU-10, respectively; total disease burden could decrease by 1.9% and 3.6%, respectively. The burden of ischaemic heart disease and stroke could be reduced by up to 17% and 10%, respectively, in the EU-15 and by 24% and 15%, respectively, in the EU-10; potential reductions for the selected cancers varied from 1% to 12% in the EU-15 and from 2% to 17% in the EU-10.
Conclusions: The potential health gain of increased fruit and vegetable intake is particularly large in the new Member States, and particularly high for cardiovascular diseases, a main cause of health divide in Europe. This stresses the need for better nutrition programmes and policies that take account of economic, social and cultural specificities.