Ten Dietary Factors Linked with Premature Death in US

March 6, 2018 in Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Lately, I’ve been reading the heartbreaking numbers of those dying as a result of the flu. Fortunately, it appears that the peak of the flu season has been reached – thank goodness. I’ve had the flu twice; once in the 80s and once about 2009. The H1N1 (Swine flu) was a big deal in 2009. I remember almost pushing my husband into the aisle of an airplane; I snuggled up to him so close to escape a sneezing man at the window seat on my left. The guy had apparently never heard of covering his face or even turning his head to the window when sneezing. I felt repeated showers with his sneezes. It was gross. I hadn’t had the flu for decades; and never had a flu vaccine. But the H1N1 droplet showers were more than my active immune system could fight. I became very sick.

As evidenced by the media, we’re afraid of the flu. I know, even I’ve begun getting the flu vaccine and hope for the best. And hope I’m never again trapped under the showers of an inconsiderate sneezer.

The number of people that die each year from flu is a complex calculation. You can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s site) if you want to read about how the numbers are calculated and how they range. But today, I wanted to use the flu numbers to make a point. The CDC says that the numbers of flu deaths range from 3,300 to 49,000 in the US in a given year. Keep that number in mind, and read on.

Last year, a Tuft’s University study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). JAMA has made the full text public; so you can read it; if you like. In short, the researchers found that an estimated 318,656 cardiometabolic deaths (heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes) were associated with dietary factors.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that we worry so much about getting the flu (I’ll use the top of the CDC’s range – 49,000 deaths a year.) and we don’t seem to be nearly as worried about cardiometabolic deaths associated with dietary factors (318,656 – over 6 times more, just for deaths related to dietary factors).

Maybe you are concerned and are working on improving your dietary habits. One of the excellent outcomes, from the JAMA study cited above, is that they even have the top ten dietary habits that are associated with the risk of cardiometabolic deaths ranked by the percentage of cardiometabolic deaths. Here they are:

  1. High in sodium                         5%
  2. Low in nuts/seeds                         5%
  3. High in processed meat             2%
  4. Low in seafood omega-3 fat             8%
  5. Low in vegetables                         6%
  6. Low in fruits                                     5%
  7. High in sugar-sweetened drinks 4%
  8. Low in whole grains                         9%
  9. Low in polyunsaturated fat             3%
  10. High in unprocessed red meat             4%

I realize that I’ve written about all these problems (type one of the items 1 – 10 in the search bar on the blog home page); but I thought if somebody out there in cyber land had a desire to improve their health or reduce their risk of cardiometabolic death, that the percentages may be motivating. Let’s just imagine a hypothetical person (Mr. Hypothetical) has not been eating well (Cap’n Crunch for breakfast; ramen for lunch; Cheetos for afternoon snack and a white bread bologna and cheese sandwich, washed down with a sugar-sweetened drink for dinner; a little ice cream for dessert). Sure, he’s eventually in trouble. But he may know it and he may be wondering where to start.

I’m suggesting he could use the JAMA chart to help him make decisions on priority setting. If he decides to go down the column from one to ten and take one at a time he could be very successful at improving and potentially making an impact on his risk of death.

Let’s just say for the sake of argument, you eat better than Mr. Hypothetical. But there are some problems lurking in your eating habits that are keeping your risk higher than you’d like. If you’re, wondering where to start, try using JAMA’s list (above).

Just one more thought. If we’re well nourished, it is one of the factors that gives us a fighting chance at combating the flu and other ugly germs; that is, if we are unfortunate enough to pick up a bug from a handshake or a sneeze shower.