Bad diets kill more people than tobacco, say researchers

Leslie Hanson
April 7, 2019

For people seeking to improve their diets, adding in more whole grains and nuts may be a good place to start, since people in the study weren't eating almost as much of them as they should have been, Afshin states.

Researchers found that poor diets leading to cardiovascular disease and cancer caused nearly 11 million deaths, or one in every five deaths, worldwide in 2017.

In 2017, more deaths were caused by diets with too low amounts of foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds than by diets with high levels of foods like trans fats, sugary drinks, and high levels of red and processed meats.

The authors justified this conclusion because, they said, people tended to miss their targets for good foods (fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables) more than they exceeded the recommended limits for bad ones (sugar, fatty meats).

Poor diets were responsible for 10.9 million deaths, or 22% of all deaths among adults in 2017, with cardiovascular disease (CVD) as the leading cause, followed by cancers and diabetes. However, tobacco resulted in an estimated 8 million deaths.

"We are highlighting the importance of low consumption of healthy foods as compared to the greater consumption of unhealthy foods", Afshin said.

"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".

A landmark study by British medical journal The Lancet has found that Israel has one of the lowest number of diet-related deaths of any country in the world.

In the study, researchers analysed eating habits of people across 195 countries to estimate how much poor diets contribute to mortality.

But as cuisine and culinary attiudes vary across the world, different countries have different rates of diet related deaths.

It also noted the prohibitive costs of the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables per person per household, which in low-income countries stood at 52 percent of household income, leading to the conclusion that there's room for policy intervention across national and worldwide food systems.

The lead author of the study, Dr Ashkan Afshin explains: "Generally in real life people do substitution". "Our research finds the need for a comprehensive food system intervention to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of healthy foods across nations". A diet rich in plant-based foods, and with fewer animal source foods, confers both improved health and environmental benefits.

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