Does Nigeria have a diet problem? A 2019 study published in The Lancet revealed that Nigeria ranks 42nd out of 195 countries with the highest rate of diet-related deaths. The study was conducted by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD), highlights the alarming consequences of poor dietary habits and their impact on mortality and chronic diseases worldwide. Nigeria, along with several other countries including the United States, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, and Turkey, faces the challenge of low intake of whole grains as the leading dietary risk factor for deaths and diseases.
The GBD study, which analyzed data from 1990 to 2017, tracked the consumption patterns of 15 dietary factors across different nations. It estimated that one in five deaths globally, amounting to approximately 11 million deaths, can be attributed to a poor diet. Diets high in sodium, low in whole grains, and low in fruits were identified as the primary contributors to more than half of all diet-related deaths in 2017.
Cardiovascular diseases accounted for 10 million deaths, while 913,000 deaths were attributed to cancer, and nearly 339,000 deaths resulted from Type 2 diabetes. The study revealed a significant increase in deaths related to poor diets, rising from 8 million in 1990 due to population growth and aging.
In 2017, the number of deaths caused by diets lacking whole grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds surpassed those caused by diets high in trans fats, sugary drinks, red meat, and processed meats. These findings emphasize the urgent need for global efforts to improve dietary habits through collaboration with various sectors of the food system and the implementation of policies promoting balanced diets.
A striking disparity was observed among countries regarding diet-related deaths. In 2017, the country with the highest rate of such deaths was Uzbekistan, while Israel had the lowest rate. Nigeria ranked 42nd, with neighboring countries like Rwanda ranking 41st. The United Kingdom stood at 23rd, the United States at 43rd, China at 140th, and India at 118th in terms of diet-related deaths per 100,000 people.
The study revealed regional variations in dietary risks. High sodium intake was found to be the leading risk in China, Japan, and Thailand, while low intake of whole grains posed a significant risk in the United States, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, and Turkey. Bangladesh faced the highest risk associated with low fruit consumption, while Mexico had a notable risk related to low intake of nuts and seeds.
The Global Burden of Disease Study, considered the most comprehensive scientific effort to quantify health levels and trends, urges immediate action to improve diets worldwide. The study examined major foods and nutrients across 195 countries, highlighting the impact of poor diets on non-communicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. It analyzed data from epidemiological studies and identified associations between dietary factors and health outcomes.
While the study acknowledges that existing campaigns have not been entirely effective, it emphasizes the importance of implementing new interventions to rebalance diets globally. However, it also emphasizes the need for these changes to consider environmental factors and avoid adverse effects on climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, freshwater depletion, and soil degradation.
This study reinforces the critical role of dietary habits in overall health and serves as a call to action for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and individuals alike to prioritize nutrition and make informed choices that contribute to a healthier future.
In January 2019, The Lancet published the EAT-Lancet Commission, which outlined scientific targets for a healthy diet within sustainable food production systems. These targets provide guidance on achieving a healthy diet while operating within planetary boundaries for food production. The report highlighted the need to bridge the gap between current dietary habits and the recommended healthy diet to promote global well-being.
As Nigeria faces the challenges posed by its ranking in diet-related deaths, it is crucial for the government, healthcare institutions, and the public to join forces in promoting healthier eating habits, increasing awareness about the importance of whole grains and other essential nutrients, and implementing policies that support balanced diets. By addressing these issues, Nigeria can work towards reducing the burden of diet-related diseases and improving the overall well-being of its population.