• by: Valter Longo Foundation Editorial Staff
  • April 29th, 2020
Health starts at the table: eating healthy helps you live better and longer. On the other hand, eating poorly, replacing vegetables and whole grains with high amounts of animal proteins and refined carbohydrates, can be more detrimental than cigarette smoking. This was highlighted by a recent scientific investigation that was published in the TheLancet, thanks to the collaboration of a group of researchers led by Ashkan Afshin of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) atthe University of Washington. 130 scientists from over 40 countries around the world took part in the study. To date, this is the most extensive analysis of the effects of diet on health.

According to the researcher, poor nutrition is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Serving dishes made with excess salt, fats (especially trans fats), and having too many sugary beverages is dangerous for health. Junk food and poor eating habits, in fact, worsen quality of life by facilitating the onset of many diseases, and can result in higher mortality rates compared to that of smoking, high blood pressure, or any other risk factors. Instead, a balanced diet with healthy foods, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, can be life-saving.


A phrase coined by the philosopher Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, “we are what we eat,” has also been supported by Ashkan Afshin. The risks associated with poor nutrition affect everyone, regardless of age, gender, or social status. Afshin,  who carried out a study on obesity in 2017, has also done new research to carefully analyze the effects of food on chronic health problems, in particular heart disease and diabetes. The data showed that unbalanced and nutrient-poor diets are responsible for 10.9 million deaths annually, compared to 8 and 10.4 million for smoking and hypertension, respectively. That is, 22% of deaths in 2017 in the 40 countries under examination, were mainly due to cardiovascular diseases, followed by cancer and diabetes.

In addition, by analyzing the emerging results, the researchers extrapolated data regarding the measure of the severity of a disease expressed in Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY). In other words, the number of lost years of “healthy” life due to premature mortality due to a certain disease. In this case, poor nutrition was responsible for 255 million years lost to premature death or disability; 16% of all DALYs among adults globally.


From this study, bad habits were found to be responsible for approximately half of deaths from poor nutrition, and 66% of DALYs. The other 50% can be attributed to diets rich in red and/or processed meats, sugary drinks, and trans fats.

According to Afshin, new policies must be put intoplace to promote nutrition based on healthy foods, which can certainly play an important role in the prevention of many diseases. It is thus necessary to review the entire production, transformation, and marketing cycle of “good” food products, as well as promote healthy diets. In fact, a greater consumption of plant proteins, compared to those from animal sources, can bring benefits worldwide. The authors stress that diets rich in animal proteins, and trans fats are the main risk factors for mortality, while diets that contain legumes, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds can serve as protective factors of mortality.


  1. Ashkan Afshin et Al. – GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators – Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 – The Lancet, 2019 May 11
  2. Ashkan Afshin et Al. – GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators – Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries – The New England Journal of Medicine, 2017 June 12

By Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff
Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus aims to make scientific dissemination by raising awareness among the scientific and non-scientific community of a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition through the production of explanatory scientific articles, textual, infographics and multimedia content, and the dissemination of clinical activities scientific, informative and educational aspects of the Foundation and its team of professionals. Dietary pathways, scientific discoveries, clinical studies, treatments and technologies, national and international awareness events, prevention initiatives as well as Longevity recipes are just some of the topics addressed in articles and in-depth interviews published daily and written in collaboration with the Foundation’s specialists. Also active on social networks, Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff also offers a monthly newsletter sent to all members, to stay up to date on the most interesting news related to the world of Health, Nutrition and Longevity.
Romina Inés Cervigni
Alessandra Fedato
Maria Liliana Ciraulo
Corinna Montana Lampo
Cristina Villa
Contact: or + 39 02 2513 8307


Join our Newsletter to stay updated with the Foundation projects and new advances in diseases prevention and treatment.