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May 9, 2019 • Healthy Eating & Nutrition

Did You Know Poor Diets Are the Leading Cause of Death World-Wide?

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An epic new report provides scientific affirmation of what many of us in the field have suspected for a long while—poor diets are responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world, including use of tobacco. In this eye-opening and sobering evaluation, world researchers looked at the consumption of major food groups as well as 15 key dietary components from 1990 to 2017 across 195 countries. With this information, the scientists quantified the impact of unhealthy diets on death as well as the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
The findings estimate that one in five deaths globally are attributed to diet with diet also driving a disproportionate amount of premature chronic diseases. In 2017 more deaths were linked with diets lacking in key foods like whole grains, fruits, and nuts than by diets excessive in unhealthy foods like soda and red meat. Meaning low consumption of healthy foods is a more serious public health issue than excessive consumption of unhealthy foods.
Here are some specific highlights to note:
  • Globally, the leading dietary risk factors for death were high intakes of sodium and low intakes of whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
  • In 2017 there were 11 million deaths attributable to unhealthy diets. Diets high in sodium and low in whole grains and fruits were responsible for more than half of these deaths.
  • The intakes of 15 key dietary elements were suboptimal for almost every region of the world.
  • Not a single region consumed optimal amounts of all 15 elements.
  • Globally, the foods with the greatest shortfall in intakes were nuts, seeds, milk and whole grains.
  • Globally, the foods with the greatest excesses in intakes were sugar sweetened beverages, processed meats, and salt.
  • Overall, the world consumed ten times the recommended amount of sugary beverages (horrors!) and just 12 percent of the recommended intakes of nuts and seeds (boo-hoo!).
  • For the US, low intakes of whole grains was the number one dietary risk factor for death and disease. (The Lancet , April 3, 2019; DOI:  10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30500-8)
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