Apr 07 2019

Poor Diets can be a Killer

Published by at 1:05 pm under Personal Care

Poor diets are a killer.*
It’s not what we eat but what we don’t eat that’s killing us, study suggests.1*

A new study by the Global Burden of Disease, and published in The Lancet, looks at diet and its impact on disease and death from a totally different perspective than what’s been done in the past. Rather than approaching health trends from the perspective of what foods we should not eat, they looked at the foods we should eat and how the lack of them in people’s diets worldwide are affecting chronic disease and death rates. 1*


The study tracked trends of the consumption of major foods and nutrients across 195 countries from the years 1990 to 2017. The study estimates that “…one in five deaths globally — equivalent to 11 million deaths” — were associated with poor diet, which contributes to a range of chronic diseases. They then quantified the impact that eating a poor diet can have on diseases such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, the non-communicable diseases which lead to death. 1*


According to this study, more deaths in 2017 were the result of consuming too little of foods such as nuts and seeds, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, rather than eating too much transfats, processed and red meat and sugary drinks.  According to the study’s author Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, “…”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.” …”1*


This type of study, due to its complexity across nations, has not been possible to conduct in the past. “…Previously, population level assessment of the health effects of suboptimal diet has not been possible because of the complexities of characterizing dietary consumption across different nations. The new study combines and analyzes data from epidemiological studies — in the absence of long-term randomized trials which are not always feasible in nutrition — to identify associations between dietary factors and non-communicable diseases…”1*


The study looked at 15 dietary elements. These were diets which were low in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fiber, milk, calcium, seafood omega-3 fatty acids and  polyunsaturated fats. It also looked at diets high in red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fatty acids, and sodium. The authors noted that there were variances in available data for each dietary factor which did add to statistical uncertainty of these estimates. Overall, the data on how people ate most dietary factors was available for  most of the countries surveyed (95%), while data for the sodium estimates was only available for about one quarter of the countries. 1*


As a result of their analysis, they estimate that approximately 11 million people died from diseases that were the result of poor diets. The breakdown is as follows: 1*


  • Cardiovascular disease: 10 million
  • Cancer deaths: 913,000
  • Type 2 diabetes: 339,0001*


According to the authors, consumption of  the 15 dietary elements was below required levels for nearly all regions of the world. No region ate the recommended amount of all of the 15 dietary factors and not one dietary factor was eaten in the right amount by all 21 regions of the world. Some regions did meet some of the dietary requirements. Central Asia met the requirements for vegetables. Seafood omega 3 fatty acids intake was met in high income Asia Pacific. Legumes were eaten in the recommended amount in the Caribbean, tropical Latin America, South Asia, Western Sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Sub-Saharan Africa. 1*


 “…Regionally, high sodium intake (above 3g per day) was the leading dietary risk for death and disease in China, Japan, and Thailand. Low intake of whole grains (below 125g per day) was the leading dietary risk factor for death and disease in the USA, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, and Turkey. In Bangladesh, low intake of fruits (below 250g per day) was the leading dietary risk, and, in Mexico, low intake of nuts and seeds (below 21g per day) ranked first. High consumption of red meat (above 23g per day), processed meat (above 2g per day), trans fat (above 0.5% total daily energy), and sugar-sweetened beverages (above 3g per day) were towards the bottom in ranking of dietary risks for death and disease for highly populated countries…”1*


But on average the world only ate 12% of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds, yet drank around 10 times the recommended amount of sugar sweetened beverages. The largest short comings were seen for nuts and seeds, whole grains and milk. The greatest excesses were seen for sugar sweetened beverages, processed meats and sodium. The authors noted that sodium, sugar, and fat have been the focus of policy debates over the past twenty years. Yet their assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are too much sodium, or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegetables.1*


“…Regional variations were also evident with some countries having more deaths due to the lack of these dietary elements than others. The countries with the lowest rates of dietary deaths were Israel (89 deaths per 100,000 people), France, Spain, Japan, and Andorra. The UK ranked 23rd (127 deaths per 100,000) above Ireland (24th) and Sweden (25th), and the United States ranked 43rd (171 deaths per 100,000) after Rwanda and Nigeria (41st and 42nd), China ranked 140th (350 deaths per 100,000 people), and India 118th (310 deaths per 100,000 people). The countries with the highest rates of diet-related deaths were Uzbekistan (892 deaths per 100,000 people), Afghanistan, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu…” 1*


The magnitude of diet-related disease highlights that many existing campaigns have not been effective and the authors call for new food system interventions to “…rebalance diets around the world, while being sensitive to the environmental effect of the global food system…” The authors hope this study will result in more comprehensive interventions to ‘…promote the production, distribution, and consumption of healthy foods across all nations…’ 1*


While the study utilizes the best available data, the authors recognize there are limitations and gaps in “…nationally representative individual-level data for intake of key foods and nutrients around the world…” Making the connection between dietary factors and death and disease from an epidemiological standpoint is mostly from observational studies. There is more solid evidence when it comes to linking other major risk factors (such as tobacco and high blood pressure) to ill health. 1*


In addition, the authors only looked at food and nutrient intake and did not evaluate whether people were over- or underweight. Lastly, some deaths could have been attributed to multiple dietary factors, which may have resulted in an overestimation of the burden of diseases attributable to diet. 1*


Professor Nita G Forouhi, Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, UK, says: “Limitations notwithstanding, the current GBD findings provide evidence to shift the focus, as the authors argue, from an emphasis on dietary restriction to promoting healthy food components in a global context. This evidence largely endorses a case for moving from nutrient-based to food based guidelines…” 1*


This falls in line of what we know about eating a balanced diet high in those foods that feed the healthy bacteria in our microbiome and not the bad. Including Body Biotics™ Bio-Identical SBO Probiotics Consortia™ is another key element. I hope you enjoyed this interesting look at diet and food in our world.

Healthiest wishes,





  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190403193702.htm
  2. https://www.thelancet.com/

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