Nutrition could cut the number of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, study finds

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

istock | creditannsyvanych
istock | creditannsyvanych
At least half of all premature cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths could be prevented by better nutrition such as by increasing consumption of whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids, according to an international study.

The research, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology​, discovered how cardiovascular deaths were influenced by diets over the last 26 years, with a particular focus on the period from 2010 to 2016.

The team, led by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the nutriCARD competence cluster and the University of Washington in the USA, found that, in Western Europe, increased intakes of whole grains, nuts and seeds, vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids and fruits have reduced the number of deaths from CVDs.

Although previous studies have elucidated the roles of dietary and metabolic risk factors in CVDs, this study provides a corresponding analysis of countries, differentiating age and sex groups and several key food and nutrient groups. 

For the study, the team evaluated representative data from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) collected between 1990 to 2016. They analysed the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, in the 51 countries designated as European region by the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as several states in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The researchers calculated the percentage of deaths attributable to an unbalanced diet. They found that diets that correlated with CVDs were diets low in whole grains (20.4%), nuts and seeds (16.2%), fruits (12.5%), high in sodium (12.0%), and low in seafood omega-3 PUFA (10.8%).

There was a low risk association with diets high in processed meat, fatty acids and sodium.

Regional variations

Significant differences were found between the 51 countries.

Within Eastern Europe, the highest number of absolute deaths due to diet-related CVDs was in Russia, followed by Ukraine. In fact, Ukraine showed the highest number of deaths due to diet-related CVDs (38.2% of total deaths) among all countries.

A diet low in whole grains was the leading risk factor in all GBD regions but the ranking of the other dietary risks varied.

In Western Europe, Eastern Europe and in Central Asia the low consumption of nuts and seeds was the second leading risk factor for CVDs, in Central Europe the excessive consumption of sodium caused the second highest mortality.

In Eastern European countries, the excessive consumption of sodium ranked in fifth place, behind the ‘diet low in nuts and seeds’, ‘diet low in fruits’ and ‘diet low in omega-3 fatty acids’. 

Is time a healer?

On average, the fraction reduction of diet-related CVD deaths out of total mortality from 1990 to 2016 was 34% for Western Europe and 25% for Central Europe.

The largest reduction was in Israel (54%), followed by Denmark (51%) and the UK (48%). Whereas in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, the fractions increased slightly.

From the 2010 to 2016, the largest decreases were observed for the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Serbia.

The research says the magnitude of the changes reflect underlying alterations in dietary patterns. In the last two decades, while improvements in diet-related vascular health in Eastern Europe derived mainly from increased consumption of fruits, PUFAs and omega-3 fatty acids, the reduced consumption of sodium was the largest impacting factor in Central Europe and Central Asia, as well as the increased intake of vegetables and fruits.

Deaths from CVD

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide​.

In the year 2016, diet-related risks were associated with 2.1 million deaths from CVDs in the WHO European Region.

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study​ ​ in 2016, more than 9.1 million premature deaths from CVDs worldwide are attributable to dietary risks, which equals 52% of all CVD-related deaths in the year 2016.


European Journal of Epidemiology

Published online:

"Cardiovascular mortality attributable to dietary risk factors in 51 countries in the WHO European Region from 1990 to 2016: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study"

Authors: Toni Meier et al

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