Unhealthy diet causes one in seven deaths in Britain every year, a Lancet study suggests. The research found lack of fruit and fibre is taking the heaviest toll, fuelling conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The study by the University of Washington identified lack of wholegrain, nuts and fruits as the worst elements of the British diet.
Reduce cancer risks through dieting:
- Be a healthy weight. Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life
- Be physically active. Be physically active as part of everyday life – walk more and sit less
- Eat a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans. Make wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your usual daily diet
- Limit consumption of ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars. Limiting these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit consumption of red and processed meat. Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb. Eat little, if any, processed meat
- Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks
- Limit alcohol consumption. For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol
- Do not use supplements for cancer prevention. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone
- For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can. Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby
- After a cancer diagnosis: follow our recommendations, if you can. Check with your health professional what is right for you
Too much salt was the fourth biggest dietary risk factor, followed by too little vegetables. And the study found that fizzy drinks and processed meats such as ham and bacon were only minor contributors to Britain’s death toll. In total, poor diet was found to be responsible for 90,000 deaths in the UK a year – around one seventh of the 607,000 fatalities annually.
Researcher Dr Christopher Murray, from the University of Washington, said: “This study affirms what many have thought for several years – that poor diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor in the world.
“Our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium, or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegetables.” The research looked at 195 countries around the world.
The UK had the 23rd lowest mortality due to diet, with 127 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. This compared to 73rd place in 1990, when bad eating habits killed 345 per 100,000 Britons. Globally, poor diet was responsible for more than one in five deaths in 2017, fuelling 10.9 million adult deaths. This was more than any other risk factor including smoking – which was associated with 8 million deaths, and high blood pressure, linked to 10.4 million deaths.
Cardiovascular disease – such as strokes and heart attacks – was the biggest contributor followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes. More than 130 scientists from nearly 40 countries contributed the study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in the most comprehensive analysis of its kind.