"This study shows that poor diet is the leading risk factor for deaths in the majority of the countries of the world", said study author Ashkan Afshin of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The causes of these deaths included 10 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, 913,000 cancer-related deaths, and nearly 339,000 deaths from Type-2 diabetes.
The research found that as much as 11 million deaths in 2017 could be attributed to poor diet. In 1990, deaths attributable to poor diet were around 8 million globally. Other risky dietary habits include high red meat consumption, eating large amounts of processed meats, trans fatty acids, and sugary drinks.
"Poor diet is an equal opportunity killer", said Dr Afshin.
What's driving this? As a planet we don't eat enough healthy foods including whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. The UK ranked 23rd (127 deaths per 100,000), and the U.S. ranked 43rd (171 deaths per 100,000) after Rwanda and Nigeria (41st and 42nd).
On average, the global population only ate 12 percent of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds - around 3g average intake per day, compared with 21g recommended per day.
"Dietary policies focusing on promoting healthy eating can have a more beneficial effect than policies advocating against unhealthy foods".
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"Poor diet is associated with 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, according to a new, large study".
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said "more must be done to reduce the burden of diet-related disease". Across all 15 dietary factors measured, not eating enough healthy food was associated with more deaths than eating too much unhealthy food.
The global diet included 16 percent of the recommended amount of milk (71g average intake per day, compared with 435g) and about a quarter (23 percent) of the recommended amount of whole grains (29g compared with 125g).
What would happen if everyone around the globe began to eat a healthy diet, filling three-fourths of their plates with fruits, vegetables and whole grains?
Dr Anna Diaz Font, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This study is very important as it demonstrates the major role that diet plays in the health of individuals and populations".
The researchers said that the findings show that many existing awareness campaigns have been ineffective and new interventions are needed to rebalance diets worldwide.
Which countries do best when it comes to diet?