Israel has the lowest rate of diet-related deaths worldwide, according to a major study published by researchers at the University of Washington.
The most in-depth study of its kind to date, published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, revealed that globally, one in five deaths (11 million deaths) in 2017 were associated with poor diet, with cardiovascular disease the largest contributor, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes.
The countries with the lowest rates of diet-related deaths, however, were Israel (89 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by France, Spain, Japan and Andorra.
At the other end of the spectrum, Uzbekistan received the dubious distinction of the country with the highest rate of diet-related deaths (892 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Afghanistan, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
The United Kingdom ranked 23rd worldwide (127 deaths per 100,000 people), the United States was ranked 43rd (171 deaths per 100,000 people) and China was ranked 140th (350 deaths per 100,000 people).
Deaths related to diet have significantly increased from 8 million in 1990 to 11 million in 2017, researchers said, largely due to increases in the population and population aging. The findings reveal that sub-optimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other global risk, including smoking.
“This study affirms what many have thought for several years – that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world,” said study author Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
“While sodium, sugar and fat have been the focus of policy debates over the past two decades, 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, part of the wider Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, evaluated the consumption of major foods and nutrients such across 195 countries, and tracked trends concerning 15 dietary elements between 1990 and 2017. These included fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, milk, red meat, processed meat, sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans fatty acids.
An estimated 11 million deaths were attributable to poor diet worldwide in 2017. More than half of the deaths were attributed to diets high in sodium and low in whole grains and fruit.
High consumption of red and processed meat, trans fat and sugar-sweetened beverages were ranked toward the bottom of dietary risks for death and disease in highly populated countries.
Consumption of all 15 dietary elements were sub-optimal for almost every region of the world, researchers found.
On average, the world only ate 12% of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds and drank approximately 10 times the recommended amount of sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Limitations notwithstanding, the current GBD findings provide evidence to shift the focus, as the authors argue, from an emphasis on dietary restriction to promoting healthy food components in a global context,” said Prof. Nita Forouhi of Cambridge University’s School of Clinical Medicine.
“There are of course considerable challenges in shifting populations’ diets in this direction, illustrated by the cost of fruits and vegetables being disproportionately prohibitive.”
While most dietary guidelines recommend the daily consumption of two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables per individual, a 2016 study published in The Lancet revealed that purchasing the recommended amount would account for 52% of household income in low-income countries compared to 2% in high-income countries.
“A menu of integrated policy interventions across whole food systems, internationally and within countries, is essential to support the radical shift in diets needed to optimize human, and protect planetary health,” said Prof. Forouhi.
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