An estimated 15,000 Belgians die each year prematurely because of their poor eating habits, according to an international study published in the medical journal The Lancet. A poor diet – the doctors taking part in the study identify too much salt, not enough fibre, not enough fruit and too much food in general as problems – is a risk factor in some 11 million deaths a year across the world. As a rule, poor nutrition creates or exacerbates chronic conditions – examples include diabetes and cardio-vascular illnesses – which carry the risk of early death. The figures are also weighed by infant mortality attributable to malnutrition in some parts of the world.
Belgium does relatively well in the figures, behind only Spain and France in Europe, and with four times fewer deaths per capita though bad nutrition than Russia. However affluent societies have their own problems when it comes to nutrition, doctors warn.
“The number of people who are overweight or obese has grown in recent years,” Michael Sels, head dietitian at the Antwerp university hospital, told the VRT. “Hopefully with an emphasis on more vegetables, more fruit and more whole grains we can turn that negative trend around.”
In fact, worldwide, bad eating habits are responsible for more premature deaths than any other single cause, including smoking. But again that counts in under-nutrition in famine areas, which is a different kind of problem that seen in Belgium. In this country, for the time being, smoking remains more dangerous – but for how long?
The study was carried out in 195 countries, and sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The study is in fact an ode to common sense,” Sels said. “It proves yet again that we should not put our faith in the latest super-berry or super-grain, but instead try on a daily basis to eat more fruit, more vegetables and more whole grains. And if we make sure not to eat too much, too salty, too sweet or an unbalanced diet, then we’re a long way down the right road.”