Recent studies have found that making healthier food choices and drinking better could prevent one in five deaths. Unhealthy diets are responsible for 11m preventable deaths globally per year, more even than smoking tobacco, according to a major study.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking doesn’t seem to be the main culprit anymore when it comes to damaging our health, a bad diet is.
According to a major new study, unhealthy diets are responsible for 11 million preventable deaths globally every year.
And it’s not actually the bad foods that we choose, but the lack of healthier foods that’s affecting us. Although diets vary from one country to another, eating too few fruits and vegetables and too much sodium (salt) accounted for half of all deaths and two-thirds of the years of disability attributable to diet.
Researchers are actually trying to promote eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes, and also but not only cutting down on detrimental food choices like sugar and trans fats.
The research is part of the Global Burden of Disease study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, published in the Lancet medical journal.
A bad diet is related to serious health issues
A breakdown of the analysis showed that low intake of whole grains and fruits, and high consumption of sodium – found in salt – accounted for more than half of diet-related deaths.
Heart attacks and strokes are the main diet-related causes of death, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes, say researchers.
“Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations,”they write
The researchers found that while sugars and trans fats are harmful, deaths were largely caused not by the food we eat but by those foods we don’t.
Eating too few fruits and vegetables and too much sodium (salt) accounted for half of all deaths.
“Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods,”lead scientist Dr Ashkan Afshin, from the University of Washington, said.
Countries that have a mainly Mediterranean diet eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, said Afshin, naming Lebanon, Israel and Iran among the better performers.
“But no country has an optimal level of consumption of all the health foods. Even in countries that have a Mediterranean diet, the current intake of many other dietary factors is not optimal.”
One of the most comprehensive analysis on the health effects of diet
The paper looked at 15 different nutrients – some good for health and some not so good. The main risk factors were eating too much salt and too few whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids from seafood.
Other risk factors of a poor diet mentioned in the study were consuming high levels of red and processed meat and sugary drinks, low milk consumption and low fibre.
Poor diets were responsible for 10.9m deaths, or 22% of all deaths among adults in 2017. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause, followed by cancers and diabetes. Nearly half – 45% – were in people younger than 70.
Tobacco was associated with 8m deaths, and high blood pressure was linked to 10.4m deaths.
Israel had the lowest rate of diet-related deaths, at 89 per 100,000 people, followed by France, Spain and Japan. The UK ranked 23rd, with 127 diet-related deaths per 100,000 and the US was 43rd with 171. Uzbekistan was last, with 892.
Prof Walter Willett from Harvard University, a co-author of the study, said that the findings were consistent with a recently published analysis of the benefits for cardiovascular health of replacing red meat with plant sources of protein.
“This study is very important as it demonstrates the major role that diet plays in the health of individuals and populations. Our own research shows that having a poor diet increases the risk of cancer and obesity – further increasing the risk of 12 different types of cancer.”Dr Anna Diaz Font, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said:
Also, Dr Christopher Murray, a director of the IHME and one of the authors, said: “This study affirms what many have thought for several years – that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world.
In conclusion, “while sodium, sugar, and fat have been the focus of policy debates over the past two decades, our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium, or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegetables. The paper also highlights the need for comprehensive interventions to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of healthy foods across all nations.”