April 21, 2019

Bad diets kill more people than tobacco, say researchers

07 April 2019, 07:25 | Silvia Roy

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"Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer", said Dr. Ashkan Afshin, lead author on the study and an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

One in five deaths globally are linked to poor diet, experts said on Thursday, warning that overconsumption of sugar, salt and meat was killing millions of people every year.

The sweeping review - which analysed almost 20 years of dietary data from 195 countries, alongside epidemiological studies about nutrition-related health risks and benefits - estimates that poor diets killed 11 million people around the world in 2017, mostly by contributing to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

These diets caused 10 million cardiovascular disease deaths, 913,000 cancer deaths and 339,000 deaths as a result of type 2 diabetes.

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In 2017, an estimated 11 million deaths were attributable to poor diet.

The fact that deaths related to diet have increased from eight million in 1990, is an alarming issue.

Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%.

And if you're wondering where Americans stand, of the 195 countries studied, the United States ranked 43rd in terms of the number of diet-related deaths. Researchers chose the risk factors based on availability of data and their relation to either disease burden or policy.

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Israel was joined in the healthiest-diet group by France, Italy and other countries in the northern Mediterranean region.

"Our findings show that sub-optimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations", according to the researchers.

The authors said, regionally, high sodium intake (above 3g per day) was the leading dietary risk for death and disease in China, Japan, and Thailand. More than half of the deaths were attributed to diets high in sodium and low in whole grains and fruit.

In the current study, researchers developed three diet scales that took into account the overall consumption of plant-based foods, the consumption of healthful plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts), and the consumption of lower-quality plant-based foods (such as fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes and sweets).

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The new study combines and analyses data from epidemiological studies - in the absence of long-term randomised trials, which are not always feasible in nutrition - to identify associations between dietary factors and non-communicable diseases.

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