This startling claim is in a recent report from The Lancet – 3 million deaths from too much sodium aka salt, another 3 million from a lack of whole grains and a further two million from lack of fruit in the diet. If this is to be believed then our ability to retire early with health to enjoy it could be severely compromised by poor diet. In my previous article on retirement planning we touched on this but it appears that looking at what we are putting in our mouth is even more important than I realized. Put simply poor diet kills if we are to believe the research and why wouldn’t we? Even if the research isn’t 100% accurate, it would be a shame to put all your hard work to achieve an early retirement at risk simply because of the consequences of a poor diet.
This research clearly confirms what health professional (and our mothers) have been saying for years. A balanced healthy diet is the way to go. I’m not for a moment suggesting that we all ditch meat and salt but we do need to get the balance, the proportions, right if we want to live well and enjoy the retirement we’ve worked so hard for.
Seems sensational so how did they come up with that???
Well it’s all very scientific and the official name for the report is “Health Effects of Dietary Risks in 195 Countries: Findings from the Global Burden of Diseases Study 2017”. It’s an impressive piece of research which studies adults 25 years old and older across 195 countries. One of the limitations of previous studies was the potential for geographic factors to influence the results i.e the result is tainted because of something specific to a particular country or region. The lead author, Ashkan Afshin, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, identified 15 food and nutrient groups which could contribute to early death. The data collected went back as far as 1980 and provided a “comprehensive re-analysis” of the relationship between diet and development and evaluates the trends in the burden of disease attributable to diet from 1990 to 2017.
All this boils down to looking at a vast range of data across most of the world to identify where diet was a major factor in diseases causing death or significantly shortening life expectancy.
Trends Identified in the Research
To my simple mid it appears that the global results show that we have our dietary proportions almost the opposite of what they should be. The figure below shows that in 2017 the proportion of “healthy” food in our diet was below the guidelines in every category. These foods include nuts/seeds, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Conversely the amount on known “unhealthy” food – red & processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and sodium (salt) far exceeded the daily recommended amounts.
The study showed some other general factors which we probably all know intuitively but it’s nice to have some hard evidence to back up the hype. Key amongst these were:
- Men generally eat more than women – big surprise
- Consumption was generally higher among middle-aged adults (50–69 years) and lowest among young adults (25–49 years) with a few exceptions
- The highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was observed among young adults and showed a decreasing trend with age.
- High income North Americans eat the most processed meat
- The highest red meat consumption was in Australasia followed by Latin America.
So What Does All This Mean?
The bald fact is that these dietary factors seems to have caused about 11 million deaths and reduced the life expectancy of many more of us. Now you don’t drop dead from your diet but these factors were direct causes of death from the big three; cardiovascular disease (10 million), cancers (about 900,000) and Type 2 diabetes (about 340,000). Looking at it another way, about 5 million people died from diet related causes before they reached 70 years old, well below the average life expectancy.
There are also some regional league tables that you don’t want to be on the top of:
- the highest age-standardized rates of all diet-related deaths – Oceania
- the highest rates of diet-related cardiovascular disease deaths – Central Asia and Oceania
- Oceania again features are having one of the highest rates of diet related Type 2 diabetes deaths.
Although not part of the study, I do wonder if the mortality rate once a disease is contracted is partly due to the standard of healthcare available. North America and parts of Europe feature in the poor consumption statistics but are not similarly represented in the death stats for example.
One paragraph in the report summarized the issue succinctly:
“High intake of sodium was the leading dietary risk for deaths and DALYs in China, Japan, and Thailand. Low intake of whole grains was the leading dietary risk factor for deaths and DALYs in the USA, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, and Turkey. In Bangladesh, low intake of fruits was the leading dietary risk associated with deaths and DALYs. In Mexico, low intake of nuts and seeds ranked first for diet-related deaths.”
(DALYs = disability-adjusted life year is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.)
How does this affect you?
The statistics all stack up and it’s hard to argue with the research. It’s easy to brush off averages however, if you happen to be one of the people with diabetes or heart issues, these dietary factors may well ring true for you personally. Certainly as you plan for the retirement you’re wanting with the people you want to share it with, these figures provide some food for thought (pardon the pun lol) about some changes that may need to be made or at least to confirm you’re on the right track.
The focus of much of the information on diets and eating properly has been salt, sugar and fat. While this remains at least partially true it is becoming clearer that not only do we need to consider what’s in our food but also what we’re not eating e.g nuts & seeds, whole grains and, generally speaking, more legumes and vegetables. It’s easy to blame all this on the policy makers and look to your government, wherever you are, to solve this for you but the reality is that most of this is personal choice. For all of us there will be something we can do in our daily lives that can help address these trends for our own benefit.
I hope you like this summary of the latest research from The Lancet. If you have a question or comment please leave it below and I’ll respond as soon as I can – usually within 24 hours. If you like what you’ve seen or think it may be worthwhile for someone you know, please share it by forwarding them the link or sharing it using the buttons below.