Diet now a bigger killer than smoking, study finds - 'food industry needs to be held accountable'

A new global study has found diet is now a bigger killer than smoking.

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One of the reasons for this, AUT’s Caryn Zinn told Breakfast, is that food price structures “are all wrong”. Source: Breakfast

The Global Burden of Disease Study, published yesterday in medical journal The Lancet, looks at the number of deaths and diseases that are caused by bad diets globally. The study was done among adults who are 25 years and older across 195 countries.

Poor eating habits causes a "staggering" amount of diseases, AUT dietitian Caryn Zinn told TVNZ1's Breakfast today, adding that there are a number of reasons why it's such a big killer.

“I think the food industry needs to be held accountable, particularly the fast food industry," she said. "You only have to look at where they place their fast food outlets, how they advertise, look at sponsorships of sports teams.

“Look at price structures - one of the foods that we were told we don’t eat enough of is nuts and seeds. They’re expensive, a small handful will set you back $5. Yet two and a half litres of soft drink will be half of that. The price structures are all wrong.

“The pharmaceutical industry is also interesting...All sectors of the food industry need to work together...The more we focus on lifestyle as medicine and food as medicine, rather than pharmaceutical, that’s going to help us have a chance of good health.”

The top three diseases that came through in the study, Ms Zinn noted, are cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

"The tragedy is that it mostly can be avoided," she said. "Type 2 diabetes is fully reversible through a good diet."

There were 15 types of foods and nutrients looked at in the study, and it isolated nine types that we are not eating enough of.

"Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, milk, fibre, calcium, omega 3 and nuts and seeds - we don’t eat enough of those foods,” Ms Zinn said.

We also tend to eat too much of salt, sugar, sweetened beverages and red meat and processed meat, the study noted.