One in five deaths in New Zealand can be blamed on a bad diet.
A new research paper in leading journal found that around 11 million people died globally in 2017 due to poor choice in diet.
The Global Burden of Disease Study, published in The Lancet yesterday, looks at the number of deaths and chronic diseases that are caused by poor diet globally.
The study looked at the intake of 15 foods and nutrients, among adults aged 25 years and older, across 195 countries.
Professor Valery Feigin, from AUT University, took part in the study and said 5,800 deaths in New Zealand in 2017, or 18 per cent, were attributed to dietary risks.
He said the biggest finding for Kiwis was that they were lacking good accompaniments of the diet - like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
"But we are consuming too much red meat, processed meat, sugary drinks, sodium and trans- fat," he said.
From the 11 million deaths globally, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of diet related deaths, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes.
More than 5 million diet-related deaths occurred among adults aged younger than 70 years.
Feigin said the leading diseases associated with diet related deaths in New Zealand were coronary heart disease, on 64 per cent, stroke, on 32 per cent, and colon and rectum cancer, on 36 per cent.
"It shows that our diet is quite significant," he said.
"We did analysis of the effect of dietary factors on stroke risk in New Zealand and we found that we are taking too much salt and lacking fruit intake.
"Red meat has the largest effect on colon and rectum cancer, and sodium is a particular problem with cardiovascular disease.
"Sodium intake is responsible for almost 10 per cent of deaths from ischemic heart disease and 10 per cent of strokes. That explains a significant proportion of cardiovascular deaths."
Feigin said the results from the study show that globally, and in New Zealand, there needs to be a big change in what we eat.
"Apart from making good food more affordable for socially disadvantaged people, I think our government needs to impose taxation on 'bad' foods, such as salt, sugary drinks and alcohol, as recommended by WHO," he said.
It found that in 2017, 11 million deaths could be attributed to dietary risk factors, with high intake of sodium and low intake of whole grains and fruits the leading causes.
Globally, the study found consumption of nearly all healthy foods and nutrients was below optimal level, while the daily intake of all unhealthy foods and nutrients exceeded these levels.
The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was far higher than the optimal intake, similarly, global consumption of processed meat and sodium were far above the optimal levels.
Men generally had a higher intake of both healthy and unhealthy foods than did women.
Intake of both healthy and unhealthy foods was generally higher among middle-aged adults and lowest among young adults.
At the regional level the intake of all healthy foods was lower than the optimal level in all 21 GBD regions, the only exceptions were the intake of vegetables in central Asia, seafood omega-3 fatty acids in high-income Asia Pacific, and legumes in the Caribbean, tropical Latin America, south Asia, western sub-Saharan Africa, and eastern sub-Saharan Africa.
Among unhealthy food groups, consumption of sodium and sugar sweetened beverages were higher than the optimal level in nearly every region.
Red meat consumption was highest in Australasia, southern Latin America, and tropical Latin America.
High-income North America had the highest processed meat intake followed by high
income Asia Pacific and western Europe.
The highest intake of trans fats was observed in high-income North America, central Latin America, and Andean Latin America.
Australasia, including New Zealand and Australia, was found to have very high intakes of red meat - almost three times the recommended intake - processed meat, sodium, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
The study also showed that since 1990, the number of deaths attributable to dietary risks has significantly increase, from 8 million to 11 million.
The main contributors to this increase were population growth and population ageing.
The study said that improvement of diet could potentially prevent one in every five deaths
"Dietary risks affected people regardless of age, sex, and socio demographic development of their place of residence.
"Although the impact of individual dietary factors varied across countries, non-optimal intake of three dietary factors (whole grains, fruits, and sodium) accounted for more than 50 per cent of deaths," it stated.
"Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations.
"Our results show a need for extensive changes in various sectors of the food system at the global, regional, and national levels to improve diet."
• Read the full study online at The Lancet.