You probably know by now that the standard American diet is really pretty awful and that people aren't getting enough exercise. Even then, a new study from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington makes for depressing reading.
The top line message is that for all the rightful bad rap that tobacco smoking gets, factors associated with poor diet now kill far more people each year than does lighting up. Based on stats from 2010, nearly 680,000 people die from their dietary habits, versus just over 465,000 from smoking.
Now, these figures don't mean that diet or smoking directly are the leading causes of death in the US—that honor goes to heart disease, lung cancer, and road traffic injuries—but they do help illustrate the power, both positive and negative, of our lifestyle choices have when extrapolated to an entire population.
But the truly awful part comes when you start tallying up the other factors:
- High blood pressure kills nearly 443,000 people.
- High body mass index kills a hair under 364,000.
- Physical inactivity does in 234,000.
- H igh blood sugar roughly 213,600.
- High cholesterol nearly 158,500.
By comparison, alcohol and drug use kill about 88,600 and 25,400, respectively. Even air pollution—which kills millions globally each year—less of a factor in the US, killing a bit over 100,000 people.
From the paper, click to enlarge
Add all those factors together along with physical inactivity, and the total reaches around 2 million deaths a year. Now, there's overlap in some of those—poor diet can lead to obesity, which can lead to physical inactivity, which can lead to high blood pressure, which is compounded by smoking, and so on. And to be fair, there are systemic factors as well as personal ones: We've built a society in which we drive everywhere, and fast food still receives the benefits of subsidies.
Even so, the report is pretty dark. By choice, economics, and social situation, far too many people, to put it bluntly, are eating crap and sitting on their asses.