New Study Says That One in Five Deaths Are Now Caused by Unhealthy Eating

Our diets are deadlier than smoking.

Regardless of whether you're on a vegan, ketogenic, Atkins, Mediterranean, Super Metabolism, or Whole30 diet, there's one thing that we all know for certain by now: a healthy diet for a long life is one that's rich in whole grains, fruit, and veggies—and not-so-rich in sugar, processed meat, sodium, and saturated fat. And despite all of this—and the advances in health knowledge and the explosion of wellness trends in recent years—we're still not eating very well. In fact, according to a new global study published in The Lancet, one in five deaths on earth are caused by unhealthy eating habits. Yes, that makes a poor diet an even greater risk factor for early death than smoking.

To complete their study, researchers evaluated the consumption of major foods and nutrients across 195 countries, and concluded that roughly 11 million people died in 2017 as a result of unhealthy eating habits, with a high intake of sodium, low intake of whole grains, and low intake of fruit taking the lead as dietary risk factors for premature death. The researchers also found that we're not eating the optimal amount of nuts, seeds, and milk, and consuming too many sugary drinks and too much processed and red meat.

The study also notes that "men generally had a higher intake of both healthy and unhealthy foods than did women," and the same was true of adults aged 50 to 69 versus those aged 25 to 49.

Out of the 195 countries, the United States ranked 43rd on a list of deaths related to poor diet, and our greatest risk factor seems to be a low intake of grains, though the study notes that having the highest intake of trans fats and processed meat was also an enormous problem.

The countries in which people were least likely to die prematurely due to a poor diet were Israel, France, and Spain, lending further credence to a growing body of research that says a Mediterranean diet is the key to longevity (not to mention, good mental health).

The rate of diet-related deaths was also very low in Japan, which is no surprise, given that the country is known for having the longest life expectancy in the world. Along with Singapore, Spain, and Switzerland, Japan was one of only four countries that an October 2018 study identified as experiencing an increase in life expectancy in recent years.

Much of this is attributed to the Japanese diet, which is low in sugar, red meat, and dairy, and leans heavily on whole grains, vegetables, and heart-healthy soy. It also consists of a lot of fresh fish packed with omega-3s that can help you sleep better, stay sharp well into your twilight years, and even improve your fertility and sex life.

Given growing concerns over the obesity epidemic in America, it's imperative that we change our ways and adopt healthy eating habits. A recent CDC report found that the average American is now considered obese, and another recent study has found that Millennials are well on their way to being the fattest generation in our nation's history. Needless to say, none of this is good news for our overall health and our likelihood of increasing the country's flagging rates of life expectancy. And for more advice on how to boost your longevity, check out the Five Things Harvard Says Are Guaranteed to Extend Your Lifespan.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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