LONDON – Eleven million deaths worldwide in 2017 were linked to people eating poor diets high in sugar, salt and processed meat that contributed to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, a global study found.
The research, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that among 195 countries studied, the proportion of diet-related deaths was highest in Uzbekistan and lowest in Israel. The United States ranked 43rd, Britain 23rd, China 140th and India 118th.
Among the 20 most populous countries, Japan had the lowest rate of diet-related deaths, with salt being the top risk factor.
On average, consumption of healthier foods such as nuts and seeds, milk and whole grains was too low and people consumed too many sugary drinks and too much processed meat and salt. This led to 1 in 5 deaths in 2017 being linked to bad diets.
The Global Burden of Disease study tracked trends from 1990 to 2017 of consumption of 15 dietary factors. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which led the work, said it “affirms what many have thought for several years.”
“Poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world,” he said. Our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium or low intake of healthy foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and vegetables.”
The study found people ate only 12 percent of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds — an average intake of 3 grams a day, compared with the recommended 21 grams — and drank more than 10 times the recommended amount of sugary drinks. Diets high in sugar, salt and bad fats are known risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many types of cancer.
The global diet also included less than a quarter of the recommended amount of whole grains — at 29 grams average intake a day, compared with the recommended 125 grams — and almost double the recommended amount of processed meat — at around 4 grams average intake per day, compared with the 2 grams recommended.
A study in January suggested an “ideal diet” for health and for the planet would include a doubling of consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and a halving of meat and sugar intake.
The study found that of the 11 million diet-related deaths in 2017, 10 million were from cardiovascular diseases, 913,000 from cancer and 339,000 from type 2 diabetes.
Annual deaths related to diet have increased from 8 million in 1990, but the researchers said this was largely due to larger and older populations.