Study: Bad Diets Responsible for More Deaths Than Smoking
Did you know there are about 11 million deaths per year around the globe due to poor diet?
As a planet, we aren't eating enough whole foods. You know, nutritious stuff. Whole grains, nuts, vegetables, seeds, and fruits. We drink too many sugary drinks and eat foods that are heavily processed, refined, and able to withstand a shelf life.
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All of this is spelling disaster.
A new study published in The Lancet analyzed the diets of people in 195 different countries using survey data. They also took a look at sales data and household expenditure data.
Using this data, researchers estimated the impact of poor diets on the risk of death from diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. At the global level, they took a look at the number of deaths from other risk factors such as smoking and drug use.
"This study shows that poor diet is the leading risk factor for deaths in the majority of the countries of the world," says study author Ashkan Afshin of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. He goes on to say how unhealthy diets are a determinant of ill health over tobacco or high blood pressure.
Which countries did the best?
When it comes to countries with the best diets, Israel, France, Spain, and Japan were among the countries with the lowest rates of diet-related disease. The United States ranked in at 43rd, with China ranking 140th.
Researchers understand there are data gaps that intake of key foods in some countries, which could skew some estimates.
"Generally, the countries that have a diet close to the Mediterranean diet, which has a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy oils [including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish] are the countries where we see the lowest number of [diet-related] deaths," Afshin says.
Which countries surprised the researchers?
Afshin notes that Mexico was his most interesting country. He mentions the country is ranked 11th on the list, but on the other hand, people in Mexico consume a lot of whole grain corn tortillas.
The whole grains are beneficial, but Mexico also has the highest levels of consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, too. Afhshin mentions "it's hard to say how the benefits of whole grains may influence the risks of too much sugar, but it underscores a problem seen in many countries — the overall pattern of eating could be improved."
It's Not That Easy
There’s always obstacles to eating better, including access and affordability. It's clear many people around the globe struggle to afford and find healthy foods.
Hunger and obesity are both forms of malnutrition.
Approximately 1.9 billion people weigh too much, while 800 million people around the globe don't even have enough to eat. The costs of malnutrition are staggering. A recent report suggests that worldwide malnutrition costs around $3.5 trillion annually. Overweight and obesity-related noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes adds another $2 trillion.
When it comes to ending hunger and improving health, people don't just need any food — they need nourishment. Simply eating a bunch of snacks made with refined carbohydrates and sugary sodas give you the calories you need to survive, but those same calories will put you on a path towards disease.
What Would Happen?
What would happen if everyone around the globe could begin eating a healthier diet? Filling their plates full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains? We'd certainly run out.
A recent study conducted by the researchers at the University of Guelph published in the journal PLOS One that there would not be enough fruits and vegetables to go around. "We simply can't all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system," says study co-author Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. We simply produce too many starchy products, too much sugar, and too much fat.
On a global level, we aren't producing what we should be eating.
Improving global diets won't be easy, it won't be cheap, and it won't come quickly. A wide range of initiatives will need to be coordinated — global efforts. Nutrition education and increased access to healthy foods as well as rethinking our agricultural production.
Have we set ourselves up to fail by producing, marketing, and shoving down our throats the tasty treats that are killing us?