Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston studied dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors.

Toping the list were smoking and high blood pressure.

First, the details.

  • Data on the exposure to risk factors among Americans were obtained.
  • The number of disease-specific deaths attributable to risk factors was adjusted for the effect age and gender.
  • The findings for 2005 were reported.

Risk factors associated with the highest number of deaths.

  • Tobacco smoking and high blood pressure
    • Responsible about 1 in 5 or 6 deaths in US adults.
  • Overweight-obesity and physical inactivity
    • Each responsible for nearly 1 in 10 deaths.
  • Dietary risks with the largest mortality effects
    • High dietary salt
    • Low dietary omega-3 fatty acids
    • High dietary trans fatty acids
  • Alcohol use
    • Many deaths from ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes were averted by current alcohol use.
    • But they were outweighed by deaths from cardiovascular diseases, cancers, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, alcohol use disorders, road traffic and other injuries, and violence.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “The results of our analysis of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors show that targeting a handful of risk factors has large potential to reduce mortality in the US, substantially more than the currently estimated 18,000 deaths averted annually by providing universal health insurance.”

4/29/09 21:30 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.