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Poor Diet Kills One in Five of Us

Is there any good news about the way the world eats—or doesn't?

Two years ago next week, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” (aka the “Sustainable Development Goals” or “SDG”), a broad list of ambitions aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all—within 15 years.

Number two on the list was related to food and health: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” (That, just under the SDG’s very modest #1 priority, which is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.”) While clearly not a strategic proclamation or indication of feasibility, the list was nonetheless symbolic in its intent to do something about what and how the world eats—or doesn’t. (Two short years later, as persistent famine in four nations threatens 20 million human lives, the SDG list feels more symbolic than ever. But that’s another story we’ll continue to cover.)

Now, as the General Assembly convenes this week in New York City, the results of a series of five studies funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, reveal that the global diet is one of those intractable problems that also appears to be killing us at a rate of one in five.

The study, titled “The Global Burden of Disease” and published Saturday in medical journal The Lancet, tracks morbidity and mortality from major diseases and is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date. It measures 37 of the 50 health-related indicators on the SDG list over the course of nearly three decades for 188 countries and, on the basis of past trends, predicts indicators like years of life lost or years lived with a disability to the year 2030.

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