Danny Kim for TIME
By Alexandra Sifferlin
November 2, 2015
TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

Two new studies underline the knowledge that maintaining a good diet is crucial to overall health and stopping deaths that are usually considered preventable.

Both studies were published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. The first study looked at how the American diet changed from the year 1999 to 2012 and how that impacted the rate of premature death in America. By looking at the diets of over 33,800 men and women, the researchers found that eating better was attributed to preventing 1.1 million premature deaths. During the time period there were also fewer cases of diabetes, heart disease cases and cancer.

The researchers cited regulatory actions like the U.S.’ ban on trans fat and as well a lower consumption of sugary drinks possibly due to education and limits on school campuses as some of the reasons for why diet has improved through the years.

That’s good news, but the researchers also reported that the typical American diet is not healthy. Far from it actually. On a scale of healthy eating ranging from 0 to 110 with 110 being the most healthy, most Americans in the study were below 50. There were also disparities among groups based on different backgrounds.

“The role of government action in reducing trans fats has set a successful precedent,” the study authors conclude. “Policy initiatives are urgently needed to address other healthy eating components to maintain and accelerate improvements in diet— in particular, to reduce the large and growing disparities between socioeconomic groups that translate directly into greater differences in morbidity and mortality.”

The second study addressed the type of interventions that might improve diet for better health. The researchers looked a cost-effective interventions that could lower childhood obesity, and concluded that an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, elimination of the tax subsidy for advertising unhealthy food to children, and nutrition standards for food and drinks sold in schools outside of school meals would pay for themselves through health care costs saved.

The researchers calculated that these three interventions would prevent 576,000, 129,100, and 345,000 cases of childhood obesity respectively in 2025, and save $30.78, $32.53, and $4.56 respectively for each dollar spent.

“An important question for policy makers is, why are they not actively pursuing cost-effective policies that can prevent childhood obesity and that cost less to implement than they would save for society?” the study authors write.

 

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