An Unhealthy Diet Causes Higher Mortality Rates Than Smoking, Reveals Study

An Unhealthy Diet Causes Higher Mortality Rates Than Smoking, Reveals Study

Fried chicken and some fries are hard to say no to. A study now says that an unhealthy diet is a major cause of deaths around the world.

Caught up in the hectic fast city life, we often don't pay attention to the kind of food we consume. What is more accessible and convenient usually becomes our meal, rather than what is healthy and nutritious for our body. So, we tend to grab a quick sandwich or some oily fries from the donor shop to fill our growling stomach. However, a new study says that poor diets are a major reason for deaths.

According to the analytical study that was published in The Lancet, poor diets are a major risk factor for deaths caused in the majority of countries around the world. "In many countries, poor diet now causes more deaths than tobacco smoking and high blood pressure," said Ashkan Afshin, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, to CNN.

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The study, which used survey data to analyze the diets of people from 195 countries including sales data and household expenditure data, estimated the impact of poor diet on the deaths caused by diseases like heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. In addition, they also calculated the number of global deaths caused by smoking and drug use.

The findings of the study showed that in 2017, about 11 million people around the globe died due to the intake of too much sodium and not enough fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts when compared to people whose diets were packed with trans fats, sugar-sweetened drinks and high levels of red and processed meats.

"While traditionally all the conversation about healthy diet has been focused on lowering the intake of unhealthy food, in this study, we have shown that, at the population level, a low intake of healthy foods is the more important factor, rather than the high intake of unhealthy foods," said Afshin to CNN.

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Red processed meat, trans fats, and sugary drinks were found to be at the bottom of the risk chart than salt which was a major risk factor in many countries. They found that most of the deaths in 2017 were due to eating excess salt, and not having enough fruits and whole grains.

While Israel, France, Spain, and Japan were found to have lower rates of diet-related diseases, the US and the UK were ranked 43rd and 23rd respectively. "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," said Afshin to CNN.

The researcher also added that the Mediterranean way of eating can reduce the risk of heart attacks and memory decline. The researcher also said that he was surprised by the results found among people in Mexico. The country that is ranked 57th consumed a lot of whole-grain tortillas however were also one of the highest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages.

"It's hard to say how the benefits of whole grains may influence the risks of too much sugar," Afshin said, adding that the overall eating patterns in countries should be improved.

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Considering the scale of the study, experts believe that it is relevant to people regardless of where they live. "The findings of the paper will inform policy decisions that shape what food is available in Western countries, how it is marketed and potentially what it costs in the coming years," said Andrew Reynolds, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Otago in New Zealand, to CNN.

A recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated, "Worldwide, malnutrition costs $3.5 trillion annually, with overweight- and obesity-related noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, adding $2 trillion." The conclusions from the new study reminds us that people are not just in need of food around the world but are in need of nutritious healthy foods.