Western Diet Could Lead To Premature Death

By Nina Sen , Apr 17, 2013 12:32 PM EDT

A new study suggests the Western diet could be a major reason behind heart disease. 

The typical diet of a Westerner is high in white bread, butter and red meat, three foods that increase the risk of premature death and disability later in life.

Tasnime Akbaraly, lead investigator, of Inserm in Montpellier, France, and colleagues analyzed findings from the British Whitehall II cohort study, which involved 3,775 men and 1,575 women during 1985-2009.  Researchers defined a a "Western-type diet" as consisting of fried and sweet foods, processed foods and red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products.

"We examined whether diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) — validated index of diet quality, originally designed to provide dietary guidelines — is associated with aging phenotypes, identified after a mean 16-year follow-up," Akbaraly said in a statement.

The AHEI is a validated index of diet quality designed to provide dietary guidelines for people. Its specific intent is to combat major chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The study found those who ate fried and fatty foods doubled their risk of early death. The U.S. tops the charts for global obesity, with BMI scores over 30 double that of Canadians and triple that of Scandinavians, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A commentary published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates the number of obesity-related deaths in the U.S. to be close to a quarter-million per year, with more than 64 million Americans afflicted with heart disease. By 2030, an estimated 973 million adults will be age 65 or older worldwide.

"The impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, but few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages," lead investigator Akbaraly said.

Those who followed a Western diet were prone to passing away at an earlier age than those who seldom consumed those dishes, the study found.

"We showed that following specific dietary recommendations such as the one provided by the AHEI may be useful in reducing the risk of unhealthy aging, while avoidance of the 'Western-type foods' might actually improve the possibility of achieving older ages free of chronic diseases," Akbaraly added.

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