Poor Diet Overtakes Smoking As Leading Cause Of Death In UK

By McCarton Ackerman 09/23/15

A supermajority of UK adults are overweight or obese.

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The leading cause of death and poor health in the United Kingdom may come as a surprise. A new study has found the junk-food diet that’s rampant across the country has surpassed smoking as the top cause of illness.

The findings, conducted by Public Health England (PHE) and published in The Lancet, showed that diet caused 10.8% of illness in the United Kingdom, compared with 10.7% caused by smoking.

The number of years lost to disability and illness stemming from diabetes rose by 75% between 1999 and 2013. Nearly 62% of adults in the country are either overweight or obese, while 20% of kids are obese by the time they leave primary school.

Simon Stevens, the head of the National Health Service (NHS), even said last June that the country’s health service could potentially go bankrupt from the strain of weight-related disease if the problem continues to rise.

“As a nation we are eating far too many fats and far too much sugar,” said Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE director of Health and Wellbeing. “Our salt intake, although it has been decreasing over time, is still at a level where we would like to see further decreases. We do recognize that this is not going to be down to families alone. We have much greater gains that can be made in working with the industry.”

Of course, the alcohol that often accompanies these meals isn’t helping as deaths from alcohol-related diseases have soared across the country. PHE figures from England showed a 57% rise in liver cancer deaths and 42% jump in cirrhosis deaths during the same time period.

But a separate study released this week by New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center suggested that exercise is a “potent” force against cancer and should be part of disease treatment. The researchers found that women with breast cancer could reduce mortality by up to 50% with 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, compared with those who are inactive. Men with prostate cancer who exercised vigorously had a 40-50% reduction in mortality.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.