Our diets may be more deadly than smoking

A grandma and her grandson cook together over a stove.

If you ask people what’s the one human behavior that causes the most deaths, chances are, many may say smoking. But as bad as smoking is, new research suggests that the food choices we make create an even larger health risk.

Poor diet may be a risk factor for death

If you ask people what’s the one human behavior that causes the most deaths, chances are many may say smoking. But as bad as smoking is, new research suggests that the food choices we make create an even larger health risk.

As part of a new study published in The Lancet, researchers analyzed the diets of people in 195 countries using survey data along with spending habits and other factors.1 Then they estimated the impact of poor diets on the risk of death from diseases including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. The researchers also calculated the number of deaths related to other risk factors, such as smoking and drug use.

The news on eating habits is alarming. About 11 million deaths a year are linked to poor diet around the globe, and poor diet is a factor in shortening the life span of hundreds of millions of other people, according to the study. The study says approximately 1 in 5 deaths worldwide can be attributed to the food we eat.1

"This study shows that poor diet is the leading risk factor for deaths in the majority of the countries of the world," study author Ashkan Afshin of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said in an interview with National Public Radio.2 Unhealthy diets play a bigger role in poor health than either tobacco or high blood pressure, he said.

The study states warnings. People are consuming too many sugary drinks and too much salt, meat, processed foods and trans fats. We should be replacing those items with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains whenever possible. Healthy oils, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, also are beneficial.

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.

Sources

  1. “Health Effects of Dietary Risks in 195 Countries, 1990–2017: A Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017,” The Lancet, last accessed June 24, 2019, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)30041-8/fulltext#sec1, opens new window.
  2. “Bad Diets Are Responsible for More Deaths than Smoking, Global Study Finds,” NPR, last accessed June 24, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/04/03/709507504/bad-diets-are-responsible-for-more-deaths-than-smoking-global-study-finds, opens new window.