Scientists analysed 20 years of data from 195 countries as well as epidemiological studies about nutrition-related health risks and benefits. From this, they estimated that one in five deaths were associated with poor eating habits – with cardiovascular disease the biggest contributor, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes.
“Diet is an equal opportunity killer,” Dr Ashkan Afsin, the study's co-author and assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Washington explains. “Low intake of healthy foods and high intake of unhealthy foods is the leading cause of mortality, globally and in many countries.”
And while high amounts of junk food – especially the kind that’s high in sodium – greatly impacts a person’s risk developing heart disease, Afsin says the main problem lies with a diet low in nutritious foods.
“Unlike many countries in this study, most of Australia is blessed with an abundant supply of healthy foods. Yet many of us fail to eat enough fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and eat far too much salt, particularly from take-aways and highly processed foods,” adds Heart Foundation Director of Prevention Julie Anne Mitchell. “We need to take control of our diets, cooking at home and enjoying meals with friends and family.”
In fact, the study found that most of us consume only 23 per cent of the recommended daily intake of wholegrains and just 12 per cent of nuts – both of which are key to heart health.
“While poor diet is the main risk for early death in Australia, we don’t have a national nutrition strategy,” Julie Anne Mitchell continues. “It is clear Australia urgently needs to fund policies that target comprehensive healthy eating initiatives.”