Why Good Nutrition is Important

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Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are leading causes of death in the U.S. 

Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S., due to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.1 In the last 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents.2, 3, 4

Risk Factors and the Number of Deaths in the US, 2016​1

Risk Factor No. of Deaths in 2016 % of Total Deaths
Dietary risks (other than BMI) 529,999 19.1%
Tobacco 492,437 17.8%
High Blood Pressure 481,501 17.4%
High BMI 385,965 13.9%
High FPG 376,498 13.6%
High Total Cholesterol 233,233 8.41%
Impaired Kidney Function 174,559 6.30%
Alcohol & Drug Use 155,575 5.61%
Air Pollution 105,084 3.79%
Low Physical Activity 91,670 3.31%
Occupational Risks 89,684 3.23%
Low Bone Mineral Density 25,994 0.94%
Other Environmental Risks 24,356 0.88%
Unsafe Sex 13,465 0.49%
Malnutrition 11,019 0.40%
Sexual Abuse & Violence 2,458 0.09%
WaSH 2,121 0.08%

The typical American diet is too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, and does not have enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium, and fiber. Such a diet contributes to some of the leading causes of death and increases the risk of numerous diseases5, including:

  • heart disease;
  • diabetes;
  • obesity;
  • high blood pressure;
  • stroke;
  • osteoporosis;6 and
  • cancers, including cervical, colon, gallbladder, kidney, liver, ovarian, uterine, and postmenopausal breast cancers; leukemia; and esophageal cancer (after researchers took smoking into account).7

Leading Causes of Death (2012)7

1. Heart Disease 599,711
2. Cancer 582,623
3. Chronic lower respiratory disease 143,489
4. Cerebrovascular disease (stroke and related conditions) 128,546
5. Unintentional injuries (accidents) 127,792
6. Alzheimer’s disease 83,637
7. Diabetes mellitus 73,932
8. Influenza and pneumonia 50,636
9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease) 45,622
10. Intentional self-harm (suicide) 40,600

*Diseases to which poor diet contributes are in bold


Unhealthy eating habits and inactivity affect quality of life and cause disabilities

Few recognize that unhealthy diet is a leading cause of disability. Yet unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity are leading causes of loss of independence:

  • Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness and amputations. Roughly 73,000 people have lower-limb amputations each year due to diabetes.8
  • Bone injuries due to osteoporosis are most likely to occur in the hips, spine, and wrist. Even just a slight fracture in these areas can result in loss of independence. Twenty percent of seniors who break their hip die within just one year. Those who survive often require long-term (nursing home) care.8, 9
  • Heart attack or stroke can result in difficulty with everyday activities—such as walking, bathing, or getting into or out of bed—or cognitive impairment.10

Number of Americans Living with Diseases Related to Diet and Inactivity 

Obesity11 78,100,000
High Blood Pressure12 66,900,000
Diabetes13 29,100,000
Heart disease14 26,600,000
Cancer14 20,073,000
Osteoporosis15 9,900,000
Stroke14 6,400,000

Obesity rates are skyrocketing

Over two-thirds (67.5%) of American adults are overweight or obese.2

Obesity rates in children have tripled over the last three decades, and one in three children and adolescents 2-19 years old is overweight or obese.4, 16

Read more about how public policies could help reduce obesity.


It's expensive to ignore prevention

Costs of Diseases Associated with Diet and Inactivity*

Diabetes8 $245 billion
Cancer18 $216.6 billion
Coronary heart disease9 $204.4 Billion
Obesity20 $190 Billion
High blood pressure19 $46.4 Billion
Stroke19 $36.5 Billion
Osteoporosis9 $19 Billion

* Estimates of annual direct + indirect costs for diseases overall (including portions caused by factors other than diet and physical inactivity), except for the figure for obesity, which is an estimate of direct (medical) costs only.

Health care costs $8,900 per person per year.21  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 1% reduction in dietary health risks such as weight, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol risk factors would save $83 to $103 per person per year in medical costs.22

According to the Trust for America’s Health, if obesity trends were lowered by reducing the average adult body mass index (BMI) by only 5 percent, millions of Americans could be spared serious health problems, and our country could save $158 billion over the next 10 years.23


Current investments to promote healthy eating and physical activity are insufficient


References

  1. https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NCHS Health E-Stat: Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity among Adults, United States, 1960-1962 through 2011-2012. Accessed here on November 3, 2014.
  3. Ogden C, Carrol M. Prevalence of Obesity among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963-1965 through 2007-2008, 2010. Accessed here on October 2, 2015.
  4. CDC. Childhood Obesity Facts,. Accessed here on December 17, 2014.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
  6. Bhaskaran K, Douglas I, Forbes H, dos-Santos-Silvia I, Leon DA, Smeeth L. "Body-Mass Index and Risk of 22 Specific Cancers: A Population-Based Cohort Study of 5.34 Million UK Adults." The Lancet 2014, vol. 384, pp. 755-765.
  7. Xu J, Kochanek KD, Murphy SL, Arias E. NCHS Data Brief: Mortality in the United States, 2012. Accessed here on November 3, 2014.
  8. CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014. Accessed here on April 30, 2015.
  9. National Osteoporosis Foundation. What Is Osteoporosis? Accessed at on September 11, 2014.
  10. Levine DA, Davydow DS, Hough CL, et al. "Functional Disability and Cognitive Impairment after Hospitalization for Myocardial Infarction and Stroke." Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes 2014, vol. 7, pp. 863-871.
  11. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. "Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009–2010." National Center for Health Statistics 2012, NCHS data brief, no 82. Accessed here on October 2, 2015.
  12. CDC. Vital Signs: Awareness and Treatment of Uncontrolled Hypertension among Adults-United States, 2003-2010. MMWR 2012, vol. 61, no. 35, pp. 703-9.
  13. CDC. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  14. Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. "Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012." National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 2014, vol. 10, no. 260.
  15. National Osteoporosis Foundation. 2014 Clinician's Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis. Accessed here on April 30, 2015.
  16. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. "Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012." Journal of the American Medical Association 2014, vol. 311, pp. 806-814.
  17. Child Trends Data Bank. Percentage of Children Who Are Overweight, by Selected Groups. Accessed here on November 3, 2014.
  18. CDC. United States Cancer Statistics: Technical Notes. Accessed on April 30, 2015.
  19. American Heart Association (AHA). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-At a Glance. Accessed here on October 2, 2015.
  20. Cawley J, et al. "The Medical Care Costs of Obesity: An Instrumental Variables Approach." Journal of Health Economics 2012, vol. 31, pp. 219‐230.
  21. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. National Health Care Expenditures: Aggregate and Per Capita Amounts. Accessed here on October 31, 2014.
  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investing in Prevention Improves Productivity and Reduces Employer Costs. Accessed here on October 31, 2014.
  23. Trust for America's Health. The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America 2014. Accessed here on November 3, 2014.
  24. The Hershey Company. Form 10-K, 2013. Accessed here.
  25. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Dollar Series: Documentation.Washington, DC: USDA, March 2013. Accessed here.
  26. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food and Alcoholic Beverages: Total Expenditures. Washington, DC: USDA, November 2013. Accessed here.
  27. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A Review of Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission, 2012. Accessed here.