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.

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