A Bill Gates study has revealed that over 50,000 Nigerians have died from poor diet, showing that more people die from not eating balanced diets.
The new study reveals that poor diet kills more than 500,000 Americans a year and more than 90,000 Brits – eclipsing smoking and hypertension as risk factors for premature death.
Experts warn the so-called ‘Western diet’ – heavy in red meat, fats and sugar, and low in fruit and veg – was responsible for one in five deaths globally (10.9 million adults) in 2017, the latest data we have.
The largest number of deaths is recorded in China and India, with millions of diet-related deaths per year (over 3 million and 1 million respectively), then Russia with 550,000.
The US follows with the fourth-highest rate of deaths from diet. The UK has the 18th-highest rate in the world.
Experts say the alarming figures should be a stark reminder of the health risks of overloading on red meat and soda without getting enough greens in.
‘Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer,’ lead author Dr Ashkan Afshin, an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, said.
“We are what we eat and risks affect people across a range of demographics – including age, gender and economic status.”
Cardiovascular disease – such as strokes and heart attacks – was the biggest contributor followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes.
They all fall under the umbrella of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and they now account for nearly three-quarters of deaths – with a large proportion happening unnecessarily early.
Experts blame a drop in the global consumption of foods such as nuts, seeds, milk and whole grains and increases in processed meat, salt and soda.
Co-author Dr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Dr Afshin, who wrote a global paper on obesity in 2017, said the latest study shows too much fat, sugar and salt causes chronic health problems irrespective of their effect on a person’s weight.
More than 130 scientists from nearly 40 countries contributed in the most comprehensive analysis of its kind.
In comparison, tobacco was associated with 8 million deaths, and high blood pressure was linked to 10.4 million deaths.
Diet was behind 9,497,300 deaths from cardiovascular disease, 913,100 from cancer 338,700 from diabetes and 136,600 from kidney diseases.
The study, published in The Lancet, also found low intake of whole grains and fruits and high consumption of salt accounted for more than half.
The others were attributed to high consumption of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans fatty acids found in packaged foods such as cakes, cookies and spreads.
Dr Afshin said: ‘We are highlighting the importance of low consumption of healthy foods as compared to the greater consumption of unhealthy foods.
“Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods.’
The largest gaps between current and optimal diets were observed for nuts and seeds, milk, and whole grains. Some of those gaps result from food producers and manufacturers.