APR 17, 2019 08:57 AM PDT

Are you eating your fruits and whole grains? Your life may depend on it.

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

A study published last week in the medical journal The Lancet uncovered one of the biggest threats to human survival—poor diet. This analysis of dietary data from 195 countries showed that suboptimal diet and related risk factors caused 11 million deaths in 2017—a figure now higher than smoking or high blood pressure-related deaths. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of diet-related deaths, followed by cancers and Type 2 diabetes.

This study, which is part of the Global Burden of Diseases Study through the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is considered the most comprehensive of its kind. More than 130 scientists from nearly 40 countries contributed to the analysis of data from 1990 through 2017. 

Fifteen major dietary factors were analyzed to determine how suboptimal food and nutrient intake impacts death from non-communicable diseases and morbidity. Of the 15 dietary factors analyzed high sodium intake, low whole grain intake, and low fruit intake were the leading dietary risk factors and accounted for more than 50% of global deaths. Low consumption of nuts and seeds, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids each accounted for 2% of global deaths.

Globally, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and sodium was much higher than the ideal intake range. Red meat was 18% higher than the optimum intake across the globe. 

The results of this study demonstrate that increasing intake of healthy foods may be more important to a proper diet than just eating less unhealthy foods. In a statement released by IHME, lead author Dr. Afshin said “we are highlighting the importance of low consumption of healthy foods as compared to the greater consumption of unhealthy foods. Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods.”

Improving diet and nutrient intake could potentially prevent one in every five deaths around the world. In IHME’s statement about the study, Dr. Ashkan Afshin warned that “poor diet is an equal opportunity killer. We are what we eat, and risks affect people across a range of demographics, including age, gender, and economic status.”

Sources: The Lancet, Health Data, CNN, TIME

About the Author
  • Enthusiastic science geek passionate about wildlife, wild places, and environmental issues. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, Tiffany hopes to educate and inspire the public to protect our planet.
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