'We find that diet is one of the dominant drivers of health around the world, it's really quite profound, ' Professor Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told the BBC. Cancer (913,000 deaths) and Type 2 diabetes (339,000) were the next biggest diet-related killers.
The death count increased to approximately 11 million in 2017, where over 50% of diet-related deaths were because of diets low in fruits and whole grains and high in sodium.
Overall, poor diet is behind 16-percent of adult DALYs around the world.
The Global Burden of Disease study tracked dietary trends from 1990 to 2017 in 195 countries. Other risky dietary habits include high red meat consumption, eating large amounts of processed meats, trans fatty acids, and sugary drinks.
A lack of eating healthy foods like whole grains, fruit and nuts and seeds, combined with a high intake of sodium was found to be more risky than even trans fats, sugar-sweetened drinks and processed meats, the study published Wednesday in the Lancet said. Diets high in sugar, salt and bad fats are known risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many types of cancer.
The main threats were diets that had a low intake of whole grains and fruits, and a high consumption of sodium.
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"The paper also highlights the need for comprehensive interventions to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of healthy foods across all nations".
"At a global level, we have a mismatch between what we should be eating, and what we're producing", Fraser says.
Diets lacking in healthy food are responsible for more deaths across the globe than smoking, a major new study has concluded.
"Adoption of diets emphasising soy foods, beans and other healthy plant sources of protein will have important benefits for both human and planetary health", he said.
On average, diets included only 12% of the recommended daily intake of 25g of nuts and seeds and 23% of the recommended daily intake of 126g of whole grains.
The UK ranked 23rd, with 127 diet-related deaths per 100,000 and the USA was 43rd with 171. In Bangladesh, low intake of fruits - below 250 grammes per day - was the leading dietary risk.
These latest findings reinforce the urgent need for coordinated global efforts to improve diet, through collaboration with various sections of the food system and policies that drive balanced diets.