10.9 million people died due to poor diets in 2017: Report

Global Burden of Disease study highlights how low consumption of healthy food is better than more consumption of unhealthy foods

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Friday 05 April 2019
Photo: Pixabay

Analysis of the Global Burden of Disease study published in The Lancet on April 3, 2019, notes that poor and sub-optimal diet is responsible for more deaths across the world than any other risk factor.

In 2017, the report says, poor diets were responsible for 10.9 million deaths, or 22 per cent of all deaths among adults. Additionally, 255 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) — which equal the sum of life years lost and years lived with disability — were because of poor diet.

These risks affect people regardless of age, sex and socio-demographic development status. The main problem was identified to be low consumption of whole grains, fruits and high intake of sodium.

These accounted for more than 50 per cent of deaths and 66 per cent of DALYs attributable to diet. The mean consumption of nuts and seeds per day was 12 per cent of the optimal level, while that of milk was 16 per cent and 23 per cent of whole grains per day.

Along with this, the researchers found that daily intake of all unhealthy foods and nutrients exceeded the optimal level globally.

Though the team accepts that there is a paucity of data across the world on what people are eating, they recommend that instead of trying to reduce bad diet such as those high in sugar, fat and sodium; policy makers should focus on increasing the consumption of good components.

In a press release, lead author Ashkan Afshin, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said the report highlights 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,” he said.

This recommendation has raised the hackles of activists who want to know how the researchers came to this conclusion. “While I don’t disagree that people should get good food, the report is not trying to discourage unhealthy food. It emphasises on personal responsibility for eating good food and has abdicated the industry,” says Arun Gupta convener of the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest.

“They are not even talking about marketing. We have seen that policies which encourage bad food, discourage good food,” added Gupta.

Low intake of whole grains was the leading dietary risk factor for deaths and DALYs in India. The report estimates the dietary consumption of key foods and nutrients across 195 nations annually, between 1990 and 2017.

More than 130 scientists from nearly 40 countries have contributed to the analysis. This study quantifies the environmental burden of current dietary consumption patterns at global, regional, and national levels.

The researchers used existing studies providing nationally or sub-nationally representative estimates of consumption of 15 foods and nutrients.

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