The Scientific Consensus on a Healthy Diet

The Scientific Consensus on a Healthy Diet
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The leading risk factor for death in the United States is the American diet.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

About a decade ago, the American Heart Association expressed concern that their “2020 target of improving cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020 [would] not be reached if current trends continue[d].” By 2006, most people were already not smoking, and had nearly achieved their goal for exercise. But when it came to healthy diet score, only about 1 percent got a 4 or 5 out of their 0 to 5 diet quality score, and that’s with so-called “ideal” criteria of like drinking less than four and a half cups of soda a week.

In the last decade, they saw a bump up to like 1 percent of Americans even reaching those kinds of basic criteria. But given their aggressive goal of improving that by 20 percent by 2020, they hoped to turn that 1 percent into about 1.2 percent! Okay, so how’d we do? Let’s look at the 2019 update, and it looks like we’ve slipped down to as low as one in a thousand—you can’t even see the green anymore. And American teens got a big fat zero.

No wonder, perhaps, that “for all mortality-based metrics, the U.S. rank declined … to 27th or 28th among 34 [industrialized] countries.” “Citizens living in countries with a substantially lower [GDP] and health expenditure[s] per capita . . . have lower mortality rates than those in the United States.” Slovenia beat us by three countries, coming in at 24th in life expectancy to our 27th. And more recently we seem to have slipped to 43rd, even though we spend trillions on health care—more than anyone else.

What’s the leading risk factor for death in the United States? What we eat. The standard American diet is just to die for—literally. Those trillions in health care spending aren’t addressing the root cause.

Look at some of these beautiful lung cancer death curves. It took decades to finally turn the corner, but it’s so nice to finally see those drops. When are we going to see the same with diet?

“Approximately 80 percent of chronic disease and premature death could be prevented by not smoking, being physically active, and adhering to a healthful dietary pattern.”  But what exactly is meant by “healthy diet”? Unfortunately, what we hear about nutrition in the media is often inconsistent and confusing. “There[’s a] pressure within today’s competitive journalism market for sensationalism. There may even be a disincentive to present the facts in … context…” to sell more magazines. And this paper was written back in 1997, before the lure of clickbait headlines. In fact, about three-quarters of a century ago, it was noted that unfortunately, “the subject of nutrition seems to have a special appeal to the credulous, the social zealot, and, in the commercial field, the unscrupulous,” a combination “calculated to strike despair in the hearts of the sober, objective scientist.”

“The most important [health care] problem [we face may be] our poor lifestyle choices based on misinformation.” It’s like the climate change deniers; “healthy … dietary advice [is] overshadowed by critics, diet books, [industry interests], and misguided information in the media.” Maybe what we need is like an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) of nutrition.

These days “[n]o single expert, regardless of academic stature or reputation, has the prominence to overcome the obstacles created by confusing media messages and [effectively] deliver the fundamental principles of healthy living … to the public.” However, what if there was “a global coalition consisting of a variety of nutrition experts, who collectively represent the views held by the majority of scientists, physicians, and health practitioners…”? It could “serve as the guiding resource of sound nutrition information for improved health and prevention of disease.” And…boom! “The True Health Initiative was conceived for that very purpose.” A nonprofit coalition of hundreds of experts from dozens of countries agreeing to a consensus statement on the fundamentals of healthy living. Check out https://www.truehealthinitiative.org/. Spoiler alert—the healthiest diet is one generally comprised mostly of minimally processed plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

About a decade ago, the American Heart Association expressed concern that their “2020 target of improving cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020 [would] not be reached if current trends continue[d].” By 2006, most people were already not smoking, and had nearly achieved their goal for exercise. But when it came to healthy diet score, only about 1 percent got a 4 or 5 out of their 0 to 5 diet quality score, and that’s with so-called “ideal” criteria of like drinking less than four and a half cups of soda a week.

In the last decade, they saw a bump up to like 1 percent of Americans even reaching those kinds of basic criteria. But given their aggressive goal of improving that by 20 percent by 2020, they hoped to turn that 1 percent into about 1.2 percent! Okay, so how’d we do? Let’s look at the 2019 update, and it looks like we’ve slipped down to as low as one in a thousand—you can’t even see the green anymore. And American teens got a big fat zero.

No wonder, perhaps, that “for all mortality-based metrics, the U.S. rank declined … to 27th or 28th among 34 [industrialized] countries.” “Citizens living in countries with a substantially lower [GDP] and health expenditure[s] per capita . . . have lower mortality rates than those in the United States.” Slovenia beat us by three countries, coming in at 24th in life expectancy to our 27th. And more recently we seem to have slipped to 43rd, even though we spend trillions on health care—more than anyone else.

What’s the leading risk factor for death in the United States? What we eat. The standard American diet is just to die for—literally. Those trillions in health care spending aren’t addressing the root cause.

Look at some of these beautiful lung cancer death curves. It took decades to finally turn the corner, but it’s so nice to finally see those drops. When are we going to see the same with diet?

“Approximately 80 percent of chronic disease and premature death could be prevented by not smoking, being physically active, and adhering to a healthful dietary pattern.”  But what exactly is meant by “healthy diet”? Unfortunately, what we hear about nutrition in the media is often inconsistent and confusing. “There[’s a] pressure within today’s competitive journalism market for sensationalism. There may even be a disincentive to present the facts in … context…” to sell more magazines. And this paper was written back in 1997, before the lure of clickbait headlines. In fact, about three-quarters of a century ago, it was noted that unfortunately, “the subject of nutrition seems to have a special appeal to the credulous, the social zealot, and, in the commercial field, the unscrupulous,” a combination “calculated to strike despair in the hearts of the sober, objective scientist.”

“The most important [health care] problem [we face may be] our poor lifestyle choices based on misinformation.” It’s like the climate change deniers; “healthy … dietary advice [is] overshadowed by critics, diet books, [industry interests], and misguided information in the media.” Maybe what we need is like an IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) of nutrition.

These days “[n]o single expert, regardless of academic stature or reputation, has the prominence to overcome the obstacles created by confusing media messages and [effectively] deliver the fundamental principles of healthy living … to the public.” However, what if there was “a global coalition consisting of a variety of nutrition experts, who collectively represent the views held by the majority of scientists, physicians, and health practitioners…”? It could “serve as the guiding resource of sound nutrition information for improved health and prevention of disease.” And…boom! “The True Health Initiative was conceived for that very purpose.” A nonprofit coalition of hundreds of experts from dozens of countries agreeing to a consensus statement on the fundamentals of healthy living. Check out https://www.truehealthinitiative.org/. Spoiler alert—the healthiest diet is one generally comprised mostly of minimally processed plants.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

NutritionFacts.org is a proud supporter of the True Health Initiative. Check out https://www.truehealthinitiative.org/.

For more on the American Heart Association targets, see How Many Meet the Simple Seven?.

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