Healthier diets have prevented more than 1.1 million premature deaths in the United States, a new study revealed. Experts believe that these findings contradict the notion that Americans are consuming more unhealthy food.
Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that since 1999, better diets have actually saved people from dying prematurely, and these diets have slightly reduced cases of heart disease and diabetes as well as cancer.
The study, which was featured in the journal Health Affairs, examined how diet in the U.S. transformed throughout 1999 until 2012. Researchers looked into seven different surveys including one that involved the diet of 33,800 individuals.
The survey measured the individual's consumption of food through the Alternate Healthy Eating Index in which a score beginning 0 would mean poor diet while a score of 110 would mean perfect diet. This takes into account an individual's intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as his/her intake of processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Findings showed that the rating did not even reach the score of 50, and researchers said that the average rating only increased from 40 to 48.
The study also revealed that cases of heart disease lowered by nearly 9 percent, cases of type 2 diabetes dropped by almost 13 percent and cases of cancer were reduced by just over 1 percent.
Dong Wang, lead author of the study, said that the findings suggest that eating healthier reduces the risk for death in several ways. Healthier diets lowered the risk for chronic diseases, and a year or two of healthier diets have an impact on patient survival rates, he said.
However, Wang said that the data is no cause for celebration.
"The overall American diet is still poor," said Wang. "Huge room exists for further improvement."
Wang explained that the intake of healthy omega-3 fats and vegetables did not increase, but the consumption of trans fat had decreased by 72 percent and the consumption of beverages with sugar decreased by 36 percent.
In 2006, mandatory disclosure of trans fat on nutrition labels took effect in the U.S., and awareness regarding the matter had contributed significantly to the reduction of unhealthy food consumption.
Meanwhile, Wang suggested that the government should start more efforts in improving the diet of the poor who are not able to achieve the same level of improvements as those of other groups.
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