Poor diets cause more deaths than any other risk factor

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"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 study author Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

According to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, one in five deaths globally, equivalent to 11 million deaths, are associated with poor diet.

The biggest dietary offenders were high sodium intake (3 million deaths), low whole-grains intake (3 million deaths) and low fruit intake (2 million deaths).

The most recent dietary guideline, by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, recommends that adults follow a dietary pattern that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limits intake of saturated fats, sodium, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats.

The study tallied 10 million deaths linked to cardiovascular disease, with cancer, at 913,000, coming in a distant second.

High consumption of red and processed meat, trans fat and sugar-sweetened beverages were ranked toward the bottom of dietary risks for death and disease in highly populated countries.

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Researchers analyzed data from 195 countries and found that Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan and the Marshall Islands had among the highest proportion of diet-related deaths, while France, Spain and Peru had some of the lowest rates.

The research highlights the need for coordinated efforts from countries around the globe to improve the diet of the people through policies that drive balanced diets.

"These numbers are really striking", said Dr. Francesco Branca, the top nutritionist at the World Health Organization, who was not involved in the study. So, she said that "diet is a risk factor for everybody".

In Bangladesh, low intake of fruits (below 250g per day) was the leading dietary risk. 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.

Importantly, they noted that changes must be sensitive to the environmental effects of the global food system, to avoid adverse effects on climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, depletion of freshwater, and soil degradation. Large food companies should be pressured to create healthier products, the experts said, and doctors should be encouraged to discuss the importance of a good diet with their patients. 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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