Almost 20% of deaths worldwide are attributable to an unhealthy diet, research shows.
High blood pressure and smoking complete the top three risk factors, according to the Global Burden of Disease study.
In 2017, non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes accounted for nearly three-quarters of the 55.9 million deaths worldwide, with a large proportion of these unnecessarily early.
“A lot of these problems are potentially preventable: things like high blood pressure and smoking are still causing a massive burden of mortality and ill-health,” said Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England and a collaborator on the project.
Globally, the leading cause of death is cardiovascular disease, with abnormal tissue growth including cancers in second place, and chronic respiratory conditions in third. Among cancer deaths, lung cancer was the most common cause.
The data revealed that behaviour is the biggest threat to staying alive, with poor diet the greatest risk factor. A bad diet was behind more than 19% of all deaths worldwide in 2017, and almost 70% of coronary heart disease deaths.
Newton said even relatively poor countries are more troubled now by things like diabetes than they are from conditions such as malaria.
“A lot of it is … down to the fact that people’s way of life is changing, their diets are changing, people are eating too many calories, they are having too much fat and carbohydrate in their diet and they are not taking enough exercise,” he added.
High blood glucose – which can lead to diabetes – was the fourth biggest risk factor for an early death, according to the study reported by the Guardian.
Almost 9% of deaths worldwide – about five million – were attributable to air pollution.