Research suggests disability caused by poor eating habits puts a huge strain on society.
Poor diet is a bigger killer than smoking and each year accounts for around 11 million deaths worldwide, or 22% of the total recorded.
Smoking tobacco was associated with eight million deaths.
The vast majority of diet-related deaths were due to heart disease, followed by cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
Analysis of data published in The Lancet journal showed that low intake of whole grains and fruits, and high consumption of sodium – found in salt – accounted for more than half of diet-related deaths.
The rest were attributed to high consumption of red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and other unhealthy foods including those containing trans-fatty acids.
The research also highlighted the huge burden of disability poor diet placed on society.
Lead scientist Dr Ashkan Afshin, from the University of Washington, US, said: “Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer.
“We are what we eat and risks affect people across a range of demographics, including age, gender, and economic status.”
He added: “We are highlighting the importance of low consumption of healthy foods as compared to the greater consumption of unhealthy foods.
“Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said “more must be done to reduce the burden of diet-related disease”.
She said the UK’s challenge to the food industry to reduce sugar from everyday foods was “a clear step in the right direction”, adding “we want to see that ambition from other countries”. SKY