The Worst Diet? || Your Food and Your Death


Almost everyone’s diet is out of whack—it’s
just a question of how much. Nearly every nation on Earth fails to get
the right balance of nutrients, whether it’s because folks indulge in
processed meats and giant sodas, or because they lack basic access
to nutritious legumes and grains. And according to the Global Burden of Disease
Study 2017, these bad diets are responsible for 11 million deaths worldwide. That’s more than any other individual risk
factor, including smoking. The report used dietary data from 195 countries
to try to probe which foods or nutrients were responsible for the most deaths. Too much sodium and not enough whole grains
turned out to be some of the biggest killers, claiming 3 million lives apiece in 2017, with insufficient fruit following up
with 2 million deaths. Combined, those three factors accounted for
more than half of all diet-related deaths. But that’s not to say that was true everywhere. The dietary factors with the most influence varied considerably by geography, as did the rate of deaths. So, where do these numbers come from? Estimating how many deaths are due to any
particular risk factor is inherently challenging, especially on a global scale. In fact, researchers can’t look at an individual
death and determine which lifestyle choices lead to it. We may know a person died of heart disease,
and we may even know almost everything about their diet and lifestyle choices. But was it all the sugar or the lack of exercise or the fat-laden steak that impacted their heart health the most? No one can ever really know. Instead, statisticians use models to figure
out how much added risk there is to eating too much salt or not enough beans, then apply
those risks to the recorded deaths from diseases you might get from those poor dietary choices. It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the best
we have— and it’s worth bearing in mind that these are all estimations. Mortality rates are, of course, influenced
by more than just diet. Countries with widely available healthcare
may have similar rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, yet have fewer deaths from all
those causes. But the ways in which our diets come up short
vary considerably. So… let’s explore the findings… For nearly every food group and nutrient,
the vast majority of nations are getting either too much or not enough. These imbalances in our diets clearly contribute
to early deaths, but the study also notes that interventions to change diets haven’t historically been very successful. There’s no evidence as to what tactics work
best, or even if they work at all, and the authors point out that much of the effort
has gone into changing consumer habits rather than forcing the food industries
worldwide to shift. Telling ordinary people to eat less beef or
more fresh veggies is all well and good, but if folks don’t have access to those choices—
whether for pure lack of availability or because those healthier options are too expensive—
it won’t do much good. One thing is clear: nearly every global diet
needs to change somehow. Despite the many challenges in studying nutrition,
we already know what constitutes a healthy diet: less red and processed meat, more fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. The ways in which we address this problem
are going to vary a lot— what works for sub-Saharan Africa may not
necessarily work in central Asia or South America. But we have to address
them somehow. And soon. Hey guys, thanks for watching! If you want more Pop Sci videos,
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