Poor Diet Tied to Half of US Deaths From Heart Disease, Diabetes

In 2012, more than 45 percent of cardiometabolic deaths in the US were associated with suboptimal intakes of 10 dietary factors, according to a comparative risk assessment model.

"And eat less salt, processed meats, and sugary-sweetened beverages", she said.

The study identifies 2,000 milligrams a day, or less than 1 teaspoon of salt, as the optimal amount. Other dietary improvements included increased intake of nuts and seeds (-18%, 95% UI -14.6% to -21.0%), drop in sugar-sweetened beverage intake (-14.5%, 95% UI -12.0% to -16.9%), and rise in unprocessed red meat intake (+14.4%, 95% UI 9.1%-19.5%).

Published March 7, 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers assessed population demographics and dietary habits by age, sex, race, and education from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and estimated the association of 10 foods and nutrients with heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes mortality from meta-analyses and randomized trials.

Overeaten foods that are contributing to diet-related cardiometabolic deaths are: red meat, processed meat, sugary drinks and salt. Of those, most of the people died due to food-related issues, which accounts for nearly 45 percent of all USA deaths.

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of population-adjusted cardiometabolic deaths per year in the USA decreased by 26.5 percent and the number of diet-related cardiometabolic deaths decreased for all dietary factors, according to the researchers.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the study's senior author and dean of the Friedman School at Tufts University, told Reuters Health that the food system and environment needs to change to help individuals.

"Americans are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, vegetable oils or fish", she said.

In 2012,702,308 cardiometabolic deaths occurred in USA adults.

The researchers also calculated the percentage of deaths in 2002 that were linked with dietary factors, and found that deaths linked to certain dietary factors - such as too many sugar-sweetened beverages, not enough nuts and seeds and not enough polyunsaturated fats - decreased between 2002 and 2012. When people ate more or less than this optimal amount, the intake was considered unfavorable and begins to harm health. This is quite timely and we need to engage industry to gradually reduce salt content in processed foods.

In an accompanying editorial, Noel T. Mueller, PhD, and Lawrence J. Appel, MD, both of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, called for cautious interpretation of the findings, based upon "the strong assumption of causality" within the study. There was also a greater number of deaths linked to diet among African-Americans and Hispanics when compared with non-Hispanic whites. Relying on observational studies-even though the researchers performed multivariate adjustments-is tricky because of the potential for confounding biases. An accurate estimation of the effect size of the individual dietary factors is also critical, they note.

The study had some limitations including the fact that the study's comparative risk assessment model does not prove that changes in these dietary habits reduce disease risk.

Additionally, Mueller and Appel note that in such dietary analyses, "decisions about which and how many factors to include are critical", pointing out that saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and potassium were not included even though arguments could be made as to their importance in the optimal United States diet.

Diabetes UK said: "We already know unhealthy eating habits are linked to an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes".

  • Joanne Flowers