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‘Equal opportunity killer’: Poor diet contributes to more deaths than tobacco use, high blood pressure: study

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Seattle — Poor nutrition is the main cause of more premature deaths worldwide than tobacco use, high blood pressure or any other health risk, according to a recent study out of the University of Washington.

More than 130 scientists from 40 countries worked together to estimate the “proportion of disease-specific burden attributable to each dietary risk factor (also referred to as population attributable fraction) among adults aged 25 years or older” in 195 nations.

The scientists looked at the intake of 15 foods and nutrients in a variety of methods, estimated the effect of individual diet factors on mortality, and quantified the impact of poor diets. They found that suboptimal nutrition was responsible for 10.9 million deaths, around 22% of the world’s mortality in 2017. That includes cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and kidney diseases. Tobacco use and high blood pressure, in comparison, were linked to 8 million and 10.4 million deaths, respectively.

Three dietary factors – low intake of whole grains and fruits and high consumption of sodium – accounted for about half of the diet-related deaths. The other half were attributed to high consumption of red meat, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans fatty acids, among other foods.

“Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer,” Dr. Ashkan Afshin, study lead author and an assistant professor at UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said in an April 3 press release. “We are what we eat, and risks affect people across a range of demographics, including age, gender and economic status.”

The study was published online April 3 in The Lancet.

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