Study finds bad diets kill more people than smoking globally

A new study published this week found that poor diets kill 11 million people around the world annually, making poor diets more lethal than smoking cigarettes.

The study published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, examined people’s eating habits from 195 countries to establish a link between diets and death rates. The researchers said their finding that many diets are low in key nutrients highlights the need for a shift in how people approach their eating habits.

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“Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations,” they said.

“This finding suggests that dietary policies focusing on promoting the intake of components of diet for which current intake is less than the optimal level might have a greater effect than policies only targeting sugar and fat, highlighting the need for a comprehensive food system interventions to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of these foods across nations,” they wrote. 

The study attributed 3 million deaths to diets containing too much sodium, another 3 million to a lack of whole grains and 2 million more to inadequate amounts of fruit. The largest gaps between current and proper intake levels were observed for nuts and seeds, milk and whole grains.

Researchers examined data on dietary consumption, sales of food products and household expenditures spanning 30 years to gauge the connection between a poor diet and death from noncommunicable diseases. The study found that cardiovascular disease was the leading diet-related cause of death globally, followed by diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

Ashkan Afshin, the lead author of the report, told The Washington Post that Mediterranean diets high in healthy fats and fiber produced the highest lifespans, with Israel ranking at the top of the researchers’ model. The U.S. ranked 43.

However, no country performed high on all of the researchers’ listed forms of diets.