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Improved Diets Prevented more than 1 Million Premature Deaths, Study Says

Update Date: Nov 03, 2015 12:49 PM EST

Americans seem to be eating healthier.

According to a new study, there is evidence that improved diets have prevented more than one million premature deaths since 1999. The researchers believe that healthier diets have also led to the decline of diabetes, heart disease and cancer cases by 13, nine and one percent, respectively. Despite the improved numbers, the researchers concluded that overall, diets can still be improved dramatically.

"The overall American diet is still poor," author Dong Wang, said. "Huge room exists for further improvement."

For this research, the team had examined the answers gathered from seven health and nutrition surveys from 1999 to 2012. The data involved about 34,000 adults over 20-year-old.

The team found that the healthy diet rating increased from 40 to 48 during this time frame. Diets were ranked on a scale of 0 to 110, with 110 being the perfect diet in terms of health.

The researchers found the Americans were consuming more fruit, nuts, whole grains and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They were also eating less trans fat, red and processed meat, and drinking less sugar-sweetened beverages. The researchers noted that eating a healthier diet even for a year or two positively influenced survival rates.

The team believed that Americans were eating healthier due in large part to regulatory policies and increased education.

"The role of government action in reducing trans fats has set a successful precedent," the study authors concluded. "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."

Although the findings suggest that Americans are eating better, other experts noted that the data relied heavily on people's memories of the foods they ate, which might not the most reliable way of gathering research.

The study was published in Health Affairs.

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