Nearly half of all deaths in the United States in 2012 that were caused by cardiometabolic diseases, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, have been linked to substandard eating habits, according to a study published in the March 7 issue of JAMA and funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Of the 702,308 adult deaths due to cardiometabolic diseases, 318,656, or about 45 percent, were associated with inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients widely considered vital for healthy living, and overconsumption of other foods that are not.

The list includes foods and nutrients long-associated with influencing cardiometabolic health. The highest percentage of deaths was linked to excess consumption of sodium. Processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and unprocessed red meats were also consumed in excess. Americans did not consume enough of some foods that have healthful effects such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, polyunsaturated fats and seafood omega-3 fats.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: One of my favorite journal articles on nutrition and cancer estimated that up to 40% of cancer diagnoses could be prevented with good nutrition. This amounts to over 1 million Americans each year. Imagine the significance of that! Yet many in health care keep telling patients that it doesn’t matter what they eat, or that cancer is only due to genetic causes. The reality is that over 90% of cancer has nothing to do with genetics as the cause. Rather, environmental factors such as poor nutrition and other exposures are the culprit. While we don’t fully understand the many factors which contribute to cancer development, we do know that nutrition plays a significant role.