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Smokers are more often perceived as being prone to shortening their lifespans, which is beyond question true. But, you would be surprised to know that a bad diet actually kills more people each year than cigarettes do, according to a new study.
The study of the Global Burden of Disease by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle says that unhealthy diets cause around 11 million preventable deaths globally each year. That's more people killed than tobacco has ever managed.
But eating junk food isn't what's killing you, according to the study, but rather all the nutritious food you are rejecting. That's the reason researchers are calling for governments around the world to start promoting the consumption of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes.
Sugar and trans-fats are surely harmful, but more deaths are caused by the absence of healthy foods in our diet. These result in heart attacks and strokes most commonly, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes.
In fact, the study found that eating and drinking better could prevent one in five deaths around the world.
In general, the minimum required diets varied from country to country. However, a few common observances were that we need enough fruits and vegetables, as well as adequate sodium from salt.
"Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations," the study said. Rather than try to force people to cut down on sugar, salt, and fat, they say it would be better to promote healthy alternatives.
"Generally in real life, people do the substitution. When they increase the consumption of something, they decrease the consumption of other things," said Dr. Ashkan Afshin of the IHME, the lead author on the study.
The main risks in the study came from eating too much salt and too few fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, vegetables and fatty acids from seafood. Close behind were the dangers of high levels of processed and red meat, and sugary drinks.
According to researchers, at least 10.9 million (22 percent) of all deaths were the result of poor diets. And in 45 percent of the cases, the people were younger than 70 years old. Tobacco in the meantime claimed lives of 8 million in 2017, while high blood pressure killed 10.4 million.