While smoking tobacco kills millions of people each year, a new study has found that poor diets of sugary drinks, processed meat and sodium are actually claiming more lives globally each year than cigarettes. In fact, one in five deaths in 2017, equating to 11 million deaths, was the result of an unhealthy diet.
Researchers from the University of Washington said these deaths could be reduced if people introduced more whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds to their diets in place of trans fats, sugars and high levels of red and processed meats. The study, published in The Lancet, tracked trends in consumption of 15 dietary factors from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries.
“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,” study author Dr Christopher Murray said in a statement.
“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.”
Diets low in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk, fibre, calcium, seafood omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, and diets high in red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fatty acids and sodium were analysed as part of the study. Worryingly, diets high in sodium but low in whole grains and fruit together accounted for more than 50 per cent of all diet-related deaths globally in 2017.
These diets caused 10 million cardiovascular disease deaths, 913,000 cancer deaths and 339,000 deaths as a result of type 2 diabetes. Diet-related deaths sat at 8 million in 1990, with the increase thought to also be partly due to the ageing population.
Researchers found that on average the world consumes just 12 per cent of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds, but 10 times the recommended amount of sugar sweetened beverages. People on average drink just 16 per cent of the recommended amount of milk and 23 per cent the recommended number of whole grains, but 90 per cent more the recommended range of processed meat and 86 per cent more sodium.
Researchers found the countries with the lowest rates of diet-related deaths were Israel, France, Spain, Japan, and Andorra. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom ranked within the top 30 for lowest rates of dietary-related deaths, while the United States ranked at 43. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu were the countries with the highest rates of diet-related deaths.
To overcome the problem, the study authors called for increased national surveillance and monitoring systems for key dietary risk factors, as well as collaborative efforts to collect and harmonise dietary data from cohort studies.
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