(NaturalNews) The top six preventable risks in the average American lifestyle alone kill more than one million people each year, with omega-3 deficiency now the sixth most significant factor, according to new research published by Harvard School of Public Health.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues examined national health surveys and statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics to assess the number of deaths related to the twelve most significant modifiable lifestyle practices for Americans including tobacco use, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake and alcohol consumption.
"To have hundreds of thousands of premature deaths caused by these modifiable risk factors is shocking and should motivate a serious look at whether our public health system has sufficient capacity to implement interventions and whether it is currently focusing on the right set of interventions," said lead author Dr Goodarz Danaei in reference to findings reported in "The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle and Metabolic Risk Factors", a new study published by the Public Library of Sciences Medicine
As an average, the authors concluded, the annual death toll is around 1.14 million, but could be as high as 1.6 million.
"The government should support research that can find effective strategies for modifying the dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors that cause large numbers of premature deaths in the U.S.," the authors concluded.
While smoking and high blood pressure remain the biggest risk
factors, results suggested that omega-3 deficiency has now become the sixth biggest killer of Americans, with nearly 100,000 deaths attributed to health problems related to an insufficient dietary intake, making it a more significant issue than an excessive consumption of trans-fats.
Speaking about the findings, Dr Mozaffarian, Assistant Professor Medicine and Epidemiology and one of America`s leading researchers on the relationship between omega-3 intake and public health, warned that the impact of such dietary factors was "not on the radar the way it should be". 
In an interview with Time
magazine in January 2009 the scientist warned that "the real danger in this country, the real concern, is that we`re not eating enough fish. That is very likely increasing our rates of death from heart disease. We know from very good human studies that fish intake reduces the risk of dying from a heart attack by about a third."
The highest levels of omega-3s are found in fresh water fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout. In reference to concerns over the danger of heart problems related to mercury from fish consumption, Dr Mozaffarian was keen to stress that the benefits still outweighed the risks
, iterating that "There`s no consistent evidence right now for significant health effects from mercury in adults". 
However, other experts have been keen to stress evidence of other significant negative effects caused by mercury consumption. Research has linked high mercury levels in food in large fish-eating populations to neurological symptoms, including learning and behavioral difficulties in children.  In 2005, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis was criticized for publishing a pro-fish report funded by a $500,000 grant from the United States Tuna Foundation.
 Danaei et al. The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors. PLoS Medicine
. 2009 April; 6(4):e1000058
 Marsh DO, et al. The Seychelles study of fetal methylmercury exposure and child development: introduction. Neurotoxicology
. 1995 Winter; 16(4):583-96
About the author
Michael Jolliffe is a freelance writer based in Oxford, UK.