Is processed food really worse than cigarettes? The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition recently released a new report that shows poor diets are responsible for more deaths worldwide than alcohol, tobacco, and drugs combined! They analyzed global data from 250 studies and articles, including a new study from Lancet that found diets high in processed foods and lacking in nutritional value were responsible for 11 million deaths a year.
The study was published earlier this month and has fast food restaurants shaking in their boots.
195 countries were studied by Lancet to determine the effects of poor diets on mortality. The conclusion? Too much salt, not enough fruit, and an unbalanced diet were directly responsible for millions of deaths every single year.
Consuming too much sodium led to 3 million deaths worldwide. A lack of whole grains led to another 3 million deaths. 2 million more deaths were accounted for due to a lack of fruit.
Death by fruit, or lack thereof, is more serious than it might sound. Too much salt combined with too little nutrients is a lethal combination. Next time you browse the supermarket aisles, you might want to skip the middle lanes and stick to the perimeters instead.
Snack packs in shopping cart at store Getty Images
Dr. Lawrence Hadad, lead author and executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition claims that globally, 1 in 3 people have poor diets. This makes both junk food and malnutrition more dangerous than smoking, unsafe sex, alcohol, drugs, and even environmental factors like air pollution combined.
With fast food chains spreading across the globe like wildfire and processed foods becoming more readily available, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are on the rise. While these health problems are dangerous in the United States, they quickly become lethal in third world countries where medical attention and supplies aren't as easily available.
Lancet's study shows that urban populations in Africa are consuming more processed foods than ever before. But, malnutrition and starvation are still also still serious issues. The large income gap in many African countries has led to a health crisis of a divided underweight and overweight population. And it isn't just Africa.
Rates of obesity and diabetes are increasing across the globe and growing the fastest in countries with the lowest GDP.
How are so many populations going from underweight to overweight so quickly? As developing countries see incomes go up, they're also seeing an increase in the amount of processed foods and sugary drinks like sodas being bought and consumed. Processed foods are cheaper, making them seem like the better choice when money is tight.
Urbanization is also responsible for the increase in poor diets around the world. It's estimated that half of the world now lives in cities. The fast pace of city life, and a lack of access to fresh produce, is making processed meals the main food group in developing urban areas.
By 2030, the the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one third of the entire global population will be either overweight or obese.
According to Hadad, the only way to pump the brakes on the rise junk food is too start worldwide nutrition education programs and invest in agriculture research and development. Fast food may be filling people up, but it's also shaving years of of lives.
Next time you're tempted by a Mcdonald's drive through, just keep driving. The take-away here is that decreasing your intake of sodium and adding more whole grains and fruit into your diet can help you live a longer, fuller life. An apple a day, really could just keep the doctor away.