Bad Diets Are Responsible For More Deaths Than Smoking, Global Study Finds : The Salt Some 11 million deaths annually are linked to diet-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease, a study finds. Researchers say that makes diet the leading risk factor for deaths around the world.

Bad Diets Are Responsible For More Deaths Than Smoking, Global Study Finds

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Around the world, poor diets are linked to more deaths than smoking or drug use; that's the conclusion of a study just published in The Lancet medical journal. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports the research finds that 11 million deaths a year are tied to what people eat.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Researchers analyzed people's diets in 195 countries around the globe. They used survey data, as well as sales and household expenditure data, to try to capture what people eat. Then they estimated the impact of diets on the risk of death from diseases including heart disease, diet-related cancers and diabetes. Here's study author Ashkan Afshin of the University of Washington.

ASHKAN AFSHIN: This study shows that that unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for deaths in the majority of the countries of the vote.

AUBREY: It's kind of a stunning thought, given the risks of smoking or drug use, this idea that poor diet may top them all. So big picture - what do people eat, or not eat, that's so bad? For starters, many parts of the globe are awash in salty snacks and treats made of refined carbohydrates, as well as sugary drinks, and the largest number of diet-related deaths are tied to this - too much sodium, too much sugar and not enough whole grains, fruits or vegetables. The countries that do best at fending off diet-related diseases include Japan, Israel, France and Spain. And Afshin says they all have one thing in common - a pattern of eating close to the Mediterranean diet; this includes lots of...

AFSHIN: Fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy oils.

AUBREY: Including olive oil and omega-3s from fish. At a time when there's debate here in the U.S. about who should qualify for government food assistance, it's worth noting that many people here and around the globe struggle to afford healthy foods. But let's just say, for argument's sake, that tomorrow everyone on the planet began to fill their plates with fruits and vegetables, what would happen? Evan Fraser of the University of Guelph in Canada says, we would run out. He says, globally, we produce too many starchy foods, too much sugar and too much fat - but not enough produce.

EVAN FRASER: At a global level, we have this mismatch between what we should be eating and what we actually are producing.

AUBREY: Which is another big hurdle when it comes to nudging people towards healthier diets. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.


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