Dietary risks rank as leading cause of death, study finds

University of Washington researchers present study results at event hosted by Michelle Obama

SEATTLE — A new study by researchers at the University of Washington provides further evidence that most of the health problems affecting the country are linked to lifestyle choices.

The study, by the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, listed the top 10 risk factors for health loss in 2010 and the number of deaths attributed to each and appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"If the U.S. can make progress with dietary risk factors, physical activity and obesity, it will see massive reductions in death and disability," institute researcher and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavior Risk Factors and Surveillance Survey Ali Mokdad said. "Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity in the U.S. cause more health loss than alcohol or drug use."

Dietary risks topped the list, with more than 678,000 deaths attributed to them, followed by smoking, which caused more than 465,000, and high blood pressure, with more than 442,000. While causing relatively few deaths, alcohol and drug abuse nevertheless managed to make the list, with more than 88,000 and 25,000 deaths attributed to them, respectively. High body mass index, physical inactivity, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and ambient air pollution were the other leading causes of death.

"The U.S., particularly in certain communities, has shown what it can do about addressing risk factors such as smoking, and if we can see that same type of energy put into dietary risk factors, physical inactivity and other key areas of concern, we will see real progress in health outcomes," said institute director Christopher Murray, who presented the study at an event for mayors and other local officials Wednesday, hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.

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