Poor diet causes more deaths than tobacco consumption

Alicia Farmer
April 7, 2019

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.

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

"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", said Christopher Murray, Director at the University of Washington in the US.

The authors said the causes of these deaths included 10 million deaths from cardiovascular disease; 913,000 cancer deaths; and nearly 339,000 deaths from Type 2 diabetes. Tobacco was linked to eight million deaths. France, Spain and Japan followed Israel at the top of the list, while the USA ranked 43rd.

Israel, France, Spain and Japan were some of the top countries which had the least poor diet-related deaths.

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The United Kingdom (UK) ranked 23rd (127 deaths per 100,000) above Ireland (24th) and Sweden (25th), and the United States ranked 43rd (171 deaths per 100,000) after Rwanda and Nigeria (41st and 42nd), China ranked 140th (350 deaths per 100,000 people), and India 118th (310 deaths per 100,000 people).

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic where refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are staples, scored the worst, with a death rate of 891 per a population of 100,000. So, she said that "diet is a risk factor for everybody". And in Mexico, low intake of nuts and seeds (below 21g per day) ranked first. For example, the world drank around ten times the recommended amount of sugar-sweetened beverages. The study brought out that poor diets resulted in 10.9 million deaths which are 22 per cent of all deaths among adults in 2017. It tracked trends between 1990 and 2017. Dr. Walter Willett, a co-author of the study.

They said healthy options should be promoted rather than cutting down on sugar, salt and fat, which has been "the main focus of diet policy debate in the past two decades".

Authors of Thursday's study noted that economic inequality was a factor in poor dietary choices in many countries.

"Thus, adoption of diets emphasizing soy foods, beans and other healthy plant sources of protein will have important benefits for both human and planetary health", he said. This report used 2016 data from the GBD study to estimate how far the world is from the healthy diet proposed.

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