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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Randy

The Global Burden of Disease Study cited diet as the number one cause of death and disability in the United States. Obesity is likely the main preventable cause of premature death. Low-carb diets based on animal foods, red meat consumption, milk, and eggs appear associated with higher mortality. Having high blood levels of phosphorus, which can come from junk food and meat, is an independent predictor for mortality.  Declining kidney function, excess uric acid, and earlier puberty, each linked to higher mortality risk, can all be worsened by excess animal food intake. Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption and not enough antioxidant-rich plant food appear to kill millions around the globe every year. 

Consumption of plant foods appears associated with lower mortality risk. Studies have suggested that adherence to a Mediterranean diet, which has less meat than the standard diet, is associated with a significant reduction of mortality risk. Studies have shown that more fruit, more greens, more polyphynol phytonutrients from plant food, more nuts, and less salt are associated with a significantly lower risk of dying. Specific foods that studies have associated with longevity are legumes, flax seed, and coffee. One analysis concluded that mortality from all causes put together is significantly lower in those eating meat-free diets.

A national effort in Finland to reduce saturated fat intake from animal foods helped reduce the all-cause mortality rate by 45%. Eliminating partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply could prevent thousands of deaths every year. Meal preparation may be a factor: a 10-year study showed those who cooked at home most frequently had 59% of the mortality risk.

Most foodborne illness related deaths are attributed to poultry. A major 2012 study found that multivitamin intake had no effect on mortality rates. In fact, Vitamin E supplements specifically appear to increase all-cause mortality. Sufficient Vitamin D intake from the sun or from Vitamin D supplements may help lower mortality risk.

Physical inactivity ranks fifth as a risk factor for death. Daily time spent sitting appears linked with total mortality, regardless of formal exercise level. Research suggests that both not enough and too much sleep are associated with increased mortality, with about seven hours being best for lifespan.

A 2011 analysis showed that while Americans are living longer, we also are living fewer healthy years than we used to. Adding deaths from medication side effects to those from staff errors, unnecessary surgeries, medical facility-sourced infections, and other health care-related fatalities shows the U.S. medical system to be the third leading cause of death in the country.

The information on this page has been compiled from the research presented in the videos listed. Sources for each video can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab.

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