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Bad diets kill more people globally than smoking, study finds

Bad diets kill more people globally than smoking, study finds

Bad diets kill more people globally than smoking, study finds

Diets high in salt, and low in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds are strongly linked to higher death rates, with poor diets linked to nearly 11 million deaths globally – more than deaths linked to tobacco.

In a study published last week in the journal Lancet, researchers looked at people’s eating habits across 195 countries to estimate how much poor diets contribute to mortality. Their findings? That 11 million people die each year around the world because, at least in part, of certain foods or lack thereof, according to the study.

But the biggest problem is not the junk we eat but the nutritious food we don’t eat, say researchers, calling for a global shift in policy to promote vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes.

Previous research has linked tobacco use to eight million deaths per year worldwide, and high blood pressure to just over 10 million deaths. But it’s not surprising that diet is so critical, says lead researcher Dr Ashkan Afshin, of the University of Washington in Seattle.

For the new study, Afshin’s team used published nutrition surveys to look at typical dietary intakes across 195 countries, in addition to published research on the relationship between various diet factors and disease risks.

For example, to estimate the impact of salty diets, the researchers looked at the evidence on urinary sodium levels and changes in blood pressure – and then estimated the relationship between those blood pressure changes and disease outcomes.

“We often talk about the foods that are ‘bad,’ and what you shouldn’t eat,” Afshin said. “But this is also about what you should eat.

“Generally in real life people do substitution. When they increase the consumption of something, they decrease the consumption of other things,” says Dr Afshin.

Rather than trying to persuade people to cut down on sugar, salt and fat, which has been “the main focus of of diet policy debate in the past two decades”, it would be better to promote healthy options, the researchers say.

The conclusion? The best evidence supports not miracle foods, but an overall diet high in fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and fibre-rich whole grains.

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