In the News: Does Poor Nutrition Lead to 50% of Deaths in VT?

Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN) recently announced the launch of their county’s first Food Farmacy program. This program partners with the Vermont Department of Health to integrate food access, healthy food, and health care. It’s part of a growing number of projects in Vermont and across the country working at this important intersection.

One element of the press release caught our eye, the claim that “. . . over 50% of deaths in Vermont result from food and nutrition related illnesses.”

The spoiler here is that the statistic isn’t correct. But exploring its origins is useful and interesting, so we’re happy for the excuse to do so. (And also, ACORN, many apologies for focusing on this one item - everyone should also read the other parts of the press release because it’s a great program).

The global connection between diet and death makes a lot of headlines. Here’s a round up of a flurry from this spring, when a new study linked poor diet to 20% of deaths worldwide. Also in the news is the trend towards overweight / obesity coexisting with undernutrition and lack of access to adequate nutritious food. The World Health Organization tracks these trends here.

None of that adds up to 50% of deaths in Vermont resulting from food and nutrition related illnesses. This statistic traces back to the 3-4-50 campaign from the Vermont Department of Health (VDH), designed to raise awareness of how we can prevent chronic disease.

3-4-50 = Three behaviors (smoking, poor nutrition, lack of exercise) contribute to four diseases (cancer, heart disease and stroke, type two diabetes, and lung diseases) that account for 50% of deaths in Vermont.

The math here isn’t absolute. For example, in Heart Disease which is the leading cause of death in Vermont according to the CDC, a lot of factors come into play - genes chief among them. According to VDH about half of Vermonters diagnosed with heart disease have at least one of the three main risk factors - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are often rooted in diet but don’t belong exclusively in that domain. You can begin to tease out the different elements, and how Vermont’s doing at addressing the risk factors, through the VDH performance scorecard system.

There’s also a 3-4-50 scorecard where the public can see how Vermont is addressing those 3 behaviors that increase risk of serious disease. Move the slider up top to unlock a lot of information about trends, data sources, and programs addressing each of the goals. It even includes details on goals like eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (79% of Vermont adults do NOT eat those servings) or number of municipal strategies completed to increase access to healthy food (105).

So no, poor nutrition doesn’t account for 50% of deaths in Vermont. But nutrition is a crucial part of strong public health, something recognized and monitored by VDH. Learn more at