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Poor diet responsible for one in five deaths

A global study has found that poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths worldwide and is the second highest death risk factor, after smoking.

The ‘Global Burden of Disease’ study was published in The Lancet and found that although people are living longer, those whose diet is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and fish oil, and high in salt, have an increased risk of death.

Life expectancy

The study is the most comprehensive worldwide epidemiological study ever undertaken. It looked at the risk of death from major diseases, injuries and other risk factors at a global, national and regional level, examining trends from 1990 to 2016.

The researchers, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US, found that people are living longer. Life expectancy in 2016 is 75.3 years for women and 69.8 years for men. In 1990, average life expectancy was 65.1 years, and in 1970 it was 58.4 years.

People from Japan were found to have the highest life expectancy, at 83.9 years, and the Central African Republic has the lowest, at 50.2 years. In the UK, life expectancy for women is now 82.9 years, and for men 78.9 years.

Non-communicable diseases

The report found that of the 54.7 million deaths worldwide in 2016, over 70% of them were from ‘non-communicable diseases’ which means they can’t be inherited or passed from person to person. There were 5.5 million more deaths from these conditions in 2016 compared to 2006.

The biggest risk factor for early death is tobacco, with poor diet second. Other risk factors are high blood glucose, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – all of which can be related to diet.

Depression was one of the top causes of poor health, with 1.1 billion people suffering from mental health and substance misuse disorders in 2016.

Child deaths

The good news from the study is that in 2016, for the first time, fewer than 5 million children under the age of 5 died in one year – a significant drop from 11 million in 1990.

Deaths from HIV/AIDS decreased by 46% since 2006, and deaths from malaria decreased by 26%. The number of deaths from terrorism and conflict around the world reached over 150,000 in 2016 – a 143% increase since 2006. These were mostly caused by conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.

Some progress

Co-author of the report, Dr Christopher Murray, said: “Our findings indicate people are living longer and, over the past decade, we identified substantial progress in driving down death rates from some of the world’s most pernicious diseases and conditions.

“Yet, despite this progress, we are facing a ‘triad of trouble’ holding back many nations and communities – obesity, conflict, and mental illness.”

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