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Poor Dietary Habits Killing More Than Smoking

More exercise is not cutting into the nation’s high obesity levels, and unwise diets are killing more people than about anything else—including smoking, drinking and drug use. Those are among the findings of a new study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The independent research center rolled out its findings last week at a “Let’s Move” event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The report, with its interactive county-by-county assessments of life expectancy, physical activity, obesity and blood pressure, continues to attract attention.

In the study, the IHME identified the top ten risk factors for health loss in 2010 and the number of deaths attributable to each one. Here are the death totals by risk:

Diets                                               678,282

Smoking                                        465,651

High Blood Pressure                  442,656

High Body Mass Index              363,991

Physical Inactivity                      234,022

High Blood Sugar                       213,669

High Total Cholesterol             158,431

Ambient Air Pollution              103,027

Alcohol Use                                  88,587

Drug Use                                       25,430

“If the U.S. can make progress with dietary factors, physical activity, and obesity, it will see massive reductions in death and disability,” says Ali Mokdad, who heads the county health performance team at IHME. “Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity in the U.S. cause more health loss than alcohol or drug use.”

Diet, however, is a large cut-out. IHME tracks 14 dietary risk factors, including diets low in fruits, diets low in nuts and seeds, diets high in sodium, diets high in processed meats, diets low in vegetables, diets high in trans fatty acids, diets low in seafood omega-3 fatty acids, diets low in whole grains, diets low in fiber, diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages, diets low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, diets low in calcium, diets low in milk and diets high in red meat.

Americans upped their physical activity by about 15 percent in the decade ending in 2010. Still, deaths due to lack of physical activity is ranked as 5th highest.

Christopher J. L. Murray, director of IHME, says the study shows communities can make progress in addressing risk factors and in moving towards health outcomes. That message lines up nicely with Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

The study, titled “The State of US Health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors,” is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

© Food Safety News
  • SmokersKill

    I don’t doubt it…but I won’t keel over because the man next to me is eating a large fry. If people want to kill themselves, let them. But YOUR bad habit shouldn’t be allowed to give ME health problems.

    • Cookson Beecher

      What if that person sitting next to you and gulping down the large fries is your uncle, father, wife, grandmother or a dearly beloved friend? Too many of us have seen loved ones die from health problems caused by poor diets. (Think heart problems and diabetes, just to name a few.) And when you consider the extremely high medical costs associated with diet-related health problems, you’ll see some similarities to the reasoning behind the motorcycle helmet laws. Is the public supposed to pay for the poor choices made by other people?

      • Emily Nelson

        “Is the public supposed to pay for the poor choices made by other people?”

        That’s what living in a society is all about. NO ONE is perfect.

        • Cookiejim

          Society is all about joining together for the common good, not enabling bad behavior.

    • Chris

      True, but obesity drives up a massive cost that the community has to pay, such as health insurance. It is a known fact that approximately 20,000 Americans die each year from not having health insurance and the number one reason for people not having adequate health insurance is that they cannot afford it. The whole country is forced to subsidize those individuals who have poor diets through raising health insurance costs. While smoking used to be a tremendous burden as well, local state tax (in NY it is $5.75 all together) help pay for these expenses (food cannot really be taxed because people who eat right will complain that food is a necessity). Furthermore, there are almost no public places which allow smoking in them so second hand smoke exposure is confined to outdoor areas, save SOME smoke coming through the window; therefore, I agree there is a difference but I disagree as to what the difference is. You claim that smoking harms non-smokers and poor diets do not; however, I on the other hand argue that due to smoking laws and taxes, smokers don’t effect hardly anyone anymore while those with poor diets are indirectly killing thousands of individuals by forcing the American public to subsidize their lifestyle.

    • Chris

      Poor diets, not obesity (in my first sentence).

  • MSFSD

    And yet Dietitians are ignored by most of the medical community. You are what you eat!!!

    • Dolores Smith

      My experience with Dietitians is that they are also not always on the leading-edge of nutrition, but wait quite a bit for the evidence-based “huge amount of data” rather than the “precautionary principle used more frequently in some countries in Europe.

  • Dolores Smith

    One component I would question…Re fats American diet is low in plyunsaturated? I believe the following are used a great deal in prepared foods, baked goods, as well as in home kitchens Corn, sunflower, safllower, peanut, soybean, cottonseed is primarily polyunsaturated. Of course, there is a great deal of meat eaten, so the additional unhealthy fat is animal fat…with corn used often as I understand to feed cattle. And, the frequently used oil in commercially prepared baked goods, vegetable, oil, is primarily hydrogenated = extremely unhealthy trans fats. I think the type-of-fat issue is not that the American can diet is low in poly but more complex.

  • Dianna

    Who can really afford to eat a healthy diet these days? I live on disability, and I was putting into the system many years before I HAD to. Now I don’t even get enough to live on. I’ve had to go out and get a part time job, which is really difficult for me, and this is just to keep a roof over my head.
    The prices of healthy food is so much that I, for one can not afford it very often. But believe me, when I can eat healthy, I do eat healthy.
    My health is to the point that I am unable to grow my own garden because I can not go out and do the weeding, but believe me, I would LOVE to have a garden.
    These days it is so much cheaper to eat “junk food” than it is to eat healthy. And our government wonders why this country eats unhealthy and so many are obese.
    While yes, a lot of the obesity in this country has to do with laziness, much of it is because many of us simply can not afford to eat better than we do.
    Many times, myself, I am lucky if I have a peanut butter sandwich every two days. I do not buy canned anything if I can help it because canned foods are not healthy.
    Yes, I am a smoker, trying to quit, and yes, I am aware that a lot of my money gets wasted on cigarettes. But I do not drink, and I don’t eat out, or go to movies, or even go out to do anything. I go to work, and I come home…and that’s it. Unless i have a doctors appointment, then I will leave my house for that.

  • Judy

    As Dianna points out, health promoting food can be more expensive than the junk that is killing us. That’s largely because the government chooses to subsidize meat and dairy. Nobody subsidizes broccoli and beans. A bag of dried beans, a bag of rice and some frozen vegs can provide a very healthy and inexpensive diet, but many people don’t have the equipment (or knowledge) to use them. Many low income people don’t have proper cooking or storage facilities and I have noticed that many people I meet no longer know how to cook, unless that means following the instructions on the package for how long to microwave. We have lost some basic skills that need to be revived.

  • Bethany Quartz

    Dietary habits? As though the poor had any choice about eating the most unhealthy foods! Calorie for calorie, fruits and vegetables are horrendously expensive compared to burgers and cookies. It’s criminal to have a subsidy system that makes unhealthy food cheap instead of making healthy food cheap and it’s adding insult to injury to blame the victims for dying from it.