The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, an ongoing large-scale study carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) since the early 1990s, seeks to gather data that will inform health policy decisions.
The study is carried out by a global network of hundreds of scientists who report back from their countries regarding which diseases are most common, as well as the risk factors that seem to be causing them.
In 2017, after tracking dietary trends in 195 countries for 27 years, the study revealed the true cost of poor eating habits in lives lost, and in diseases that could be avoided.
Their most recent findings add up to especially bad news for older adults…
Poor diet is killing millions
From 1990 to 2017, the GBD study looked at dietary risk factors we’re familiar with.
We’re talking about diets high in red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, fatty acids, and sodium, and diets lacking in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fiber, calcium and healthy fats.
The study then systematically examined health and disease trends alongside these dietary risk factors.
The conclusions were alarming, to say the least.
The study found that eleven million deaths worldwide could be attributed to dietary risk factors.
Of these, three million deaths were attributed to high sodium intake, three million to low intake of whole grains, and two million to a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
So this part should come as no surprise: Ten million deaths were due to cardiovascular disease, 913,000 from cancer, and 339,000 from type 2 diabetes.
They were also able to gauge the effect of diet on life expectancy. To that end, they calculated the number of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) lost to dietary factors.
The DALY is a time-based measure that combines years of life lost due to premature mortality and years of life lost due to time lived in states of less than full health, or years of healthy life lost due to disability. One DALY represents the loss of the equivalent of one year of full health. By their calculations, 255 million DALYs were attributable to dietary risk factors.
Metabolic disease is shortening lives in older adults
The 2019 GBD study revealed something else just as frightening.
As a whole, we may be approaching a “leveling off” point in terms of making any gains in life expectancy.
In other words, we can expect that, in general, we will not live any longer than we do now, and that our life expectancy may actually grow shorter.
That’s shocking considering all the research into healthy aging and longevity. So, why would the opposite be closer to the reality?
Blame metabolic syndrome, specifically, the increase worldwide of four of the key symptoms/conditions that make up the syndrome: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high body mass index (BMI) and elevated cholesterol.
In addition, the top ten contributors to increasing health decline around the world over the past thirty years include conditions that affect mainly older adults: ischemic heart disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic kidney disease and lung cancer.
What this means for you
If you look at the increased risk of disease and death that’s happening on a global scale due to poor nutrition and bring it down to the personal level, it’s pretty clear what you should do to live a longer, healthier life.
- Cut way back on processed foods
- Substitute chicken or fish for red meats (fish has the added benefit of giving you those omega-3 fatty acids)
- Eliminate sugary drinks and go for water instead
- Control the amount of salt you use in cooking and eating
Remember, too, that the results were just as much about what we’re not eating as it was about the bad things we’ve been found to eat too much of.
Once again, the Mediterranean diet is a clear winner. And if you’re over 50, you’ll be glad to know that this heart-healthy diet has also been found to increase the number of years you get to live independently.
It’s got everything covered: healthy fats, fiber, legumes, fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
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One in five deaths associated with poor diet, Lancet study says — Integrative Practitioner
History of global burden of disease assessment at the World Health Organization — Archives of Public Health