Study Links Healthy Eating to Lower Risk of Total Mortality

January 10, 2023 by Dan McCue
Study Links Healthy Eating to Lower Risk of Total Mortality

WASHINGTON — Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services release their Dietary Guidelines for Americans with much fanfare, followed, no doubt, by parents across the United States urging their children to eat their peas and broccoli and the like.

But until now, there have been few studies that have looked at how adherence to the dietary patterns is linked with long-term health risk and cause-specific mortality.

In a new cohort study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, look at how a variety of healthy eating patterns are linked to reduced risk of premature death.

It incorporates a study of 75,230 women (with a baseline age of 50.2 years) from the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2020) and 44,085 men (with a baseline age of 53.3 years) from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2020), and found that a greater adherence to several healthy eating patterns incorporated into the guidelines was associated with a lower risk of death. 


These associations were consistent in different racial and ethnic groups, including Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic White individuals, said Dr. Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition, and his colleagues.


During the period of follow-up, 31,263 women and 22,900 men died. 

When comparing the highest with the lowest quintiles, the pooled multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios of total mortality were 0.81 (95% CI, 0.79-0.84) for Healthy Eating Index 2015; 0.82 (95% CI, 0.79-0.84) for the Alternate Mediterranean Diet; 0.86 (95% CI, 0.83-0.89) for the Healthful Plant-based Diet Index; and 0.80 (95% CI, 0.77-0.82) for the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (P < .001 for the trend for all). 

All dietary scores were significantly inversely associated with death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease. 

The Alternate Mediterranean Diet score and Alternate Healthy Eating Index were inversely associated with mortality from neurodegenerative disease. The inverse associations between these scores and risk of mortality were consistent in different racial and ethnic groups, including Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic White individuals.


These findings support the recommendations of Dietary Guidelines for Americans that multiple healthy eating patterns can be adapted to individual food traditions and preferences, the authors said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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