Poor Diet Kills More People Than Smoking

Henrietta Brewer
April 7, 2019

The UK ranked 23rd, with 127 diet-related deaths per 100,000 and the United States was 43rd with 171.

To gather this information, researchers evaluated the food consumption of adults 25 and older in 195 different countries by looking at data dating back to 1990. Globally, people were eating only 12% as many nuts they should be, and only 23% as many whole grains.

These numbers included 10 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, 913,000 cancer deaths, and nearly 339,000 deaths from type 2 diabetes. Oceania, on the other hand, had the highest rate of diet-related deaths.

An illustration of different types of food on forks
Researchers say the results underline the need for more effective food education campaigns around the world

The research highlights the need for coordinated efforts from countries around the globe to improve the diet of the people through policies that drive balanced diets.

The biggest dietary offenders were high sodium intake (3 million deaths), low whole-grains intake (3 million deaths) and low fruit intake (2 million deaths).

The researchers estimated that in 2017, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of diet-related deaths around the world, followed by certain cancers and diabetes.


The most lethal diets are those high in salt, low in whole grains and lacking in fruit and vegetables.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic where refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta are staples, scored the worst, with a death rate of 891 per a population of 100,000.

The authors said, regionally, high sodium intake (above 3g per day) was the leading dietary risk for death and disease in China, Japan, and Thailand.


In the current study, researchers developed three diet scales that took into account the overall consumption of plant-based foods, the consumption of healthful plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts), and the consumption of lower-quality plant-based foods (such as fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes and sweets).

They said healthy options should be promoted rather than cutting down on sugar, salt and fat, which has been "the main focus of diet policy debate in the past two decades". For example, the world drank around ten times the recommended amount of sugar-sweetened beverages. The paper is the most comprehensive analysis on the health effects of diet ever conducted.

Harvard Professor Dr. Walter Willett, a co-author of the study, said it was important to look at changing diets across the world.


The authors noted that there were varying levels of data available for each dietary factor, which increases the statistical uncertainty of these estimates. Large food companies should be pressured to create healthier products, the experts said, and doctors should be encouraged to discuss the importance of a good diet with their patients.

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