• Every one in almost every region throughout the world could improve their health if they rebalanced their diets to include more nutritious foods. (E+/Getty Images)Source: E+/Getty Images
Are you getting enough whole grains, fruits, milk and nuts in your diet? A new global study shows that people across the world are dying because their diet doesn't contain enough healthy foods.
By
Yasmin Noone

11 Apr 2019 - 8:30 AM  UPDATED 11 Apr 2019 - 8:30 AM

The consequences of having a poor diet, cutting certain food groups out of a meal to lose weight or not eating the right amounts of fruit, vegetables and whole grains each day are far-reaching: so far that a bad diet over the long-term could result in death.

New data from the Global Burden of Disease Study, published in The Lancet this month, shows that 11 million people from around the world died in 2017 due to dietary risk factors. Globally, that equates to one-in-five-deaths are linked to poor diet.

The data reveals that in the same year, around 255 million years of healthy life were lost due to disability, illness or early death (disability-adjusted life-years) because of what people ate day-to-day.

...more global deaths were caused people eating too little amounts of certain food groups – such as whole grains, fruits and nuts – than by diets rich in trans fats and sugary drinks.

The study, which has been tracking death and disease across 195 countries since 1990, pinpointed cardiovascular disease the international prime culprit for deaths by diet, followed by cancers and type 2-diabetes.

“High intake of sodium, low intake of whole grains, and low intake of fruits were the leading dietary risk factors for deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) globally and in many countries,” the study reads.

However, more global deaths were caused people eating too little amounts of certain food groups – such as whole grains, fruits and nuts – than by diets rich in trans fats and sugary drinks.

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Israel has the best diet and Uzbekistan, the worst 

The research ranked countries according to the number of deaths related to poor diet. Australia and New Zealand both ranked within the top 30 for lowest rates of dietary-related deaths.

The best-performing country for diet was Israel, attaining the lowest proportion of diet-related deaths, followed by France, Spain, Japan, and Andorra.

Uzbekistan had the highest rate of death. The UK was ranked 23rd, the United States 43rd, China 140th and India 118th.

“This study provides a comprehensive picture of the potential impact of suboptimal diet on non-communicable diseases mortality and morbidity, highlighting the need for improving diet across nations.”

Australia and New Zealand both ranked within the top 30 for lowest rates of dietary-related deaths.

So what is the world eating (or not eating)? 

The study shows that:

  • Only 16 per cent of diets across the globe contain the recommended amount of milk. The international recommendation is to have around 435 grams a day while people are having only 71 grams daily.
  • On average, people across the globe only have around 30 grams of whole grains while 125 grams is the recommended daily amount. Low intake of whole grains was the leading dietary risk factor for death and disease in the USA, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, and Turkey.
  • We’re not enough fruits, nuts and seeds: In Bangladesh, low intake of fruits was the leading dietary risk, and, in Mexico, low intake of nuts and seeds ranked first.  
  • Globally, we’re consuming almost double the recommended range of processed meat and 86 per cent more sodium than we should each day. High sodium intake was the leading dietary risk for death and disease in China, Japan, and Thailand.

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Where in the world do they have it right?

The paper’s authors found that there was no region in the world which practiced a perfect diet, featuring all the right levels of healthy foods.

However, the study found that some regions are leading the charge when it comes to eating specific healthy foods:

  • The intake of vegetables was optimal in central Asia.
  • People living in high-income Asia Pacific countries are eating enough seafood omega-3 fatty acids
  • In the Caribbean, tropical Latin America, south Asia, western sub-Saharan Africa, and eastern sub-Saharan Africa, people consumed a sufficient amount of legumes.

How do we fix our diets?

Nita G. Forouhi and Nigel Unwin from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge said in a corresponding comment on the study that global policy should shift to promote healthy foods and not just emphasise cutting back on bad foods. 

Meanwhile, in Australia, we are all advised to the recommended amounts of foods detailed in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

"When eating for health, it’s best for Australians to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from the core food groups, and it is important that their diet that meets their individual health needs, is sustainable in the long-term and fits with their lifestyle," a spokesperson from the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) tells SBS.

...global policy should shift to promote healthy foods and not just emphasise cutting back on bad food. 

The DAA is also calling for a new National Nutrition Policy to be developed and implemented in Australia.

“It has been over 26 years since the last National Nutrition Policy was implemented," a spokesperson says. “A coordinated approach to nutrition policy would increase Australia’s health, wellbeing and prosperity, improve nutrition and reduce the incidence and prevalence of diet-related risk factors and disease among all Australians." 

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