The research, carried out by the University of Washington's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) showed that a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and fish oils, and high in salt greatly contributes to the risk of early death.
Despite an apparent increase in life expectancy in recent years, the researchers stressed that poor diet has become the second highest risk factor for early death, following smoking.
"I don’t think people realise how quickly the focus is shifting towards non-communicable disease [such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke] and diseases that come with development, in particular related to poor diet. The numbers are quite shocking in my view. But no country in the world has been able to solve the problem and it is a concern that we really need to think about tackling globally," said Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England.
The research team also noted a growing number of metabolic risks that belong to the list of leading causes of death around the world. According to the health experts, high blood pressure remains the top killer worldwide, while high blood glucose, high body mass index (BMI), and high total cholesterol were also on the list.
"That constellation is a really, really big challenge for health and health systems...We need to look really carefully at what are the healthy compounds in diets that provide protection...Our findings indicate people are living longer and, over the past decade, we identified substantial progress in driving down death rates," IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray told The Guardian online.
According to the health experts, the dilemma was often associated with the spread of western diets that subsequently take over traditional foods in the developing world. The study also showed that drinking sugary drinks and inadequate whole grain intake further exacerbates the risk of dying. (Related: Shocking data reveal that bad diets are responsible for 45% of heart disease, diabetes related deaths.)
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that eating a healthy diet is still the key to longevity.
As part of the study, researchers examined nearly 74,000 adults and found that people who had the highest increase in healthy eating habits reduced their mortality risk between eight to 17 percent over a two-year period. The results also showed that those who maintained their healthy diet had nine to 14 percent lower risk of dying.
"Our results highlight the long-term health benefits of improving diet quality with an emphasis on overall dietary patterns rather than on individual foods or nutrients. A healthy eating pattern can be adopted according to individuals' food and cultural preferences and health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all diet," senior study author Frank Hu said in a Fortune article.