Skip to main content
sliced papaya on green banana leaf

Suboptimal diet causes more deaths than any other risk factor in the world.

According to the global burden of diseases study tracking the consumption of major foods and nutrients from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries, published in The Lancet, people could benefit from eating adequate amounts of various foods and nutrients. Poor diets have been linked to a wide range of chronic diseases and 1 in every 5 deaths attributed to poor diet.

The study looked at 15 key dietary factors: diet low in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, calcium, fibre, seafood omega3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (liquid vegetable oils) and diets high in sodium, trans fatty acids, sugar sweetened beverages, processed meat, and red meat. In almost every region, consumption of these foods was sub-optimal. So much that none of the dietary factors was eaten in the right amounts in all 21 regions of the world. The least consumed foods were nuts, seeds, milk and wholegrains, while the most consumed were sugar sweetened beverages, processed meats and sodium. On average the world ate 7 times less the recommended amount of nuts and seeds, and drank more than 10 times the recommended amount of sweetened beverages. Additionally, the world only took 16% of the recommended amount of milk, 23% of the recommended intake of wholegrains, almost double the recommended amount of processed meat and 86% more sodium. Although the risks to death and disease from these risk factors vary across regions, their impact on the non-communicable diseases burden and related deaths is apparent.

As the study showed, in 2017, an estimated 11 million deaths and 255million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – number of years lost due to ill health- were attributed to dietary risk factors majorly high sodium intake and low intake of whole grains and fruits. This study therefore calls for improvement of the quality of human diet across the globe.

Christine Nderitu

As a licensed Nutritionist and Public Health Practitioner, Christine, helps people lead healthy lifestyles through education and behaviour change practices that are simple and practical. Her area of expertise lies not just in nutrition management but in health education and promotion in HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health, Maternal and Child Health as well as Non-Communicable Diseases, which she has engaged in for a decade. She is also a columnist in a leading local Daily. Christine has a keen interest in Non-Communicable Diseases prevention and control. She feels that the world needs more stories that celebrate and normalize desired (good) behaviour, and humanity. “We have many preventable and often manmade public health issues today.”