Northern Ireland has the worst heart disease rate in the world, and the average breakfast is a good reason why.

The typical breakfast here, often called "heart attack on the plate," has enough cholesterol in it to clog the strongest arteries. For many Belfast residents there is no finer start to the day than a plate of fried eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, soda bread, potatoes and mush-rooms.Little wonder then that the British province of Northern Ireland ranks at the top of the World Health Organization chart for coronary heart disease. According to the latest WHO statistics, heart disease kills 559 per 100,000 of its population. Next come Scotland and Finland.

The United States has reduced its heart disease death rate to 320 per 100,000 while Japan is proudly at the bottom of the table with just 51 deaths per 100,000.

How on earth do you get the people of Northern Ireland to change a habit of a lifetime and switch from a diet that can put them in an early grave?

"It is a mountain for us to climb. I am not quite sure how you do it," Dr. Alun Evans, a heart specialist, said.

Evans, of Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, heads Northern Ireland's branch of a 10-year WHO project to monitor heart disease worldwide.

Health authorities have embarked on a "Change of Heart" campaign to educate workers with seminars on the factory floor. Staff cafeterias are being urged to cut down on fried food.

"Heart disease is fundamentally diet-related," Evans said. "Countries with a high intake of saturated fats from milk and meat have high death rates.

"There is no fat in the traditional Japanese meal," he noted.

He complains about entrenched interests of the food industry. "The Milk Marketing Board seems reluctant to sell low-fat dairy products," he said.

Diet alone does not kill. Evans cites smoking as a big contributory factor in a province where one in three adults smokes and children start early.