It is well established that a poor diet can raise the risk of cardiovascular death. New research, however, sheds light on the leading dietary risk factors for death from cardiovascular disease, as well as how many cardiovascular deaths these risk factors equate to.

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Researchers say that a poor diet contributes to more than 415,000 deaths from CVD in the U.S.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. These include heart attack, heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), CVD is the leading cause of death across the globe. In 2012, CVD was the cause of around 17.5 million global deaths, accounting for around 31 percent of all deaths that year.

How does diet contribute to the burden of CVD death in the United States?

Dr. Ashkan Afshin, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and colleagues sought to answer this question with their new study.

Results were recently presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions, held in Portland, OR.

Almost half of CVD deaths could be prevented with a healthful diet

The researchers used data from a variety of global sources to reach their findings, including 1990-2012 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and food availability data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The team then looked at the number of CVD deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2015 and used a systematic approach to quantify how certain dietary factors contributed to these deaths.

The researchers calculated that both a lack of healthful foods and high intake of unhealthful foods contributed to more than 415,000 CVD deaths in the U.S. in 2015. Of these deaths, more than 222,000 occurred in men and more than 193,000 occurred in women.

The team found that low intake of nuts and seeds and a low intake of vegetables were the two leading dietary risk factors for CVD death, accounting for 11.6 percent and 11.5 percent of deaths, respectively.

A low intake of whole grains accounted for 10.4 percent of CVD deaths, while excess salt intake was responsible for around 9 percent of CVD deaths.

Dr. Afshin and colleagues say that their findings show that adopting a healthful diet could help to save tens of thousands of lives every year.

"Low intake of healthy foods such as nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits combined with higher intake of unhealthy dietary components, such as salt and trans-fat, is a major contributor to deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States.

Our results show that nearly half of cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States can be prevented by improving diet."

Dr. Ashkan Afshin

Learn how a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of CVD.