09 Apr 2019

Study by the Lancet points to poor nutrition as a major cause of chronic disease

A comprehensive study between 1990 and 2017 investigating the consumption of 15 dietary factors in 195 countries has suggested that people in almost every region of the world could benefit from improving their diet by increasing their consumption of key nutrients and foods.

The study looked at 15 dietary factors including diets low in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk, fibre, calcium, seafood omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, and diets high in red meat, processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fatty acids, and sodium.

It's estimated that one in five deaths globally are caused by poor diet, amounting to 11 million deaths, with poor diet contributing to a number of chronic diseases. By 2017 the Lancet study showed that diets low in key nutrients such as nuts, whole grains, fruits and seeds were responsible for more deaths than diets high in trans fats, sugary drinks, and high levels of red and processed meats. This suggests diets need to change to increase consumption of key ingredients to improve the health of many around the world.

No region in the world is excelling

One shocking aspect of the report is the conclusion that no region in the world is currently consuming an optimal amount of the key 15 dietary elements. While some regions excelled in certain factors, they were still lacking in others and most areas performed poorly in every category.

"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 Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, USA

The findings suggest that while there has been a big effort to advise people what foods to avoid, it would perhaps be more beneficial to focus on telling people what to eat in larger quantities. Educating people about the levels of key nutrients and foods they need to consume to improve their health could help to reduce mortality rates globally.

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