A Global Burden of Disease report published in the medical journal The Lancet shows between 1990 and 2017 that 20 percent of deaths globally can be attributed to poor diet. That equates to about 11 million people a year dying from chronic diseases related to their diet.
When you dig deeper into the numbers you find more deaths can be attributed to not eating enough of the right things than too much of the wrong things. The report stated more people died in 2017 as a result of having diets that contained too few foods such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds than those with diets containing high amounts of trans fats, sugary drinks and processed meats.
The report authors say the findings underscore the need for a more coordinated effort across the globe to combat the problem through education, collaboration and policy change in the food system.
"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," says study author Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 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 paper also highlights the need for comprehensive interventions to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of healthy foods across all nations."
The study encompassed 195 countries and looked at 15 dietary elements: diets low in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, milk, fiber, calcium, seafood and polyunsaturated fats and diets high in red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fatty acids and sodium.
Cardiovascular disease was by far the biggest killer, claiming 10 million lives in 2017. Cancer was deemed the cause in 913,000 deaths and 339,000 were attributed to diabetes. The number of diet-related deaths has grown from eight million to 11 million since 1990, mainly due to an increase in population.