Poor diet is linked to one in five deaths around the world

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Lisovskaya
© iStock/Lisovskaya

Related tags Coronary heart disease Hypertension Blood sugar Risk

Diets that are low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and high in salt are now linked to one in five deaths around the world, according to a Lancet study. 

Published today (15 September) in The Lancet​, The Global Burden of Disease study​ (GBD) evaluates data on global trends in health in 195 countries around the world.

The number of deaths caused by coronary heart disease has increased by almost one fifth (19%) in the past ten years globally, killing a total of 9.48m individuals in 2016.

Diabetes caused 1.43m deaths in 2016, an increase of 31.1% since 2006 and levels of obesity are continuing to rise worldwide.

Diets that are low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, fish oils and high in salt were the most common dietary risk factors.  

Four other food-related risk factors - high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI), and high total cholesterol – were all in the top ten risk factors for death for men and women globally.

­​Because of the strong interrelationship between these risks, the authors note that the true driver is likely to be diet and BMI, exacerbated by blood glucose levels and high blood pressure.

Coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in the US city of Seattle, the study involved more than 2,500 collaborators from around the world.

IHME director Dr Christopher Murray noted that people across the globe were living for longer and there has been substantial progress in reducing death by malaria or child mortality.

However, he added: “DYespite this progress, we are facing a triad of trouble holding back many nations and communities – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders.”

Lack of investment in preventative measures as opposed to curative health care, combined with the challenge in getting people to change risky behaviour, is fuelling the problem.

'This should influence decision-making'

“There should be a global forum where these results and their policy implications are discussed. We propose that the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank, and other technical and multilateral agencies join together annually to discuss the GBD findings, and how they should influence decision making,”​ wrote researchers in an accompanying editorial​published in The Lancet along with the studies.

Non-communicable diseases accounted for 72.3% of all deaths (39.5m) in 2016, and coronary heart disease was the leading cause of premature mortality in all regions, apart from in low-income countries where the leading cause was lower respiratory infections.

There were more than twice as many live births in 2016 (128.8m) than deaths (54.7m).

The study’s authors noted that while life expectancy has increased, reaching a global average of 75.3 years for women and 69.8 years for men, we are spending longer periods of our lives in sickness. This is especially true for developing countries.

However, the researchers lauded “exemplar nations”,​ such as Ethiopia, the Maldives, Nepal, Niger, Peru, and Portugal, for surpassing the expected life expectancy based on their socio-demographic index.

“It will be important to learn the reasons for progress in these countries,” ​the researchers said.

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