Background: Few studies have evaluated the relationship between changes in diet quality over time and the risk of death.
Methods: We used Cox proportional-hazards models to calculate adjusted hazard ratios for total and cause-specific mortality among 47,994 women in the Nurses' Health Study and 25,745 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1998 through 2010. Changes in diet quality over the preceding 12 years (1986-1998) were assessed with the use of the Alternate Healthy Eating Index-2010 score, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet score.
Results: The pooled hazard ratios for all-cause mortality among participants who had the greatest improvement in diet quality (13 to 33% improvement), as compared with those who had a relatively stable diet quality (0 to 3% improvement), in the 12-year period were the following: 0.91 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.85 to 0.97) according to changes in the Alternate Healthy Eating Index score, 0.84 (95 CI%, 0.78 to 0.91) according to changes in the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and 0.89 (95% CI, 0.84 to 0.95) according to changes in the DASH score. A 20-percentile increase in diet scores (indicating an improved quality of diet) was significantly associated with a reduction in total mortality of 8 to 17% with the use of the three diet indexes and a 7 to 15% reduction in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease with the use of the Alternate Healthy Eating Index and Alternate Mediterranean Diet. Among participants who maintained a high-quality diet over a 12-year period, the risk of death from any cause was significantly lower - by 14% (95% CI, 8 to 19) when assessed with the Alternate Healthy Eating Index score, 11% (95% CI, 5 to 18) when assessed with the Alternate Mediterranean Diet score, and 9% (95% CI, 2 to 15) when assessed with the DASH score - than the risk among participants with consistently low diet scores over time.
Conclusions: Improved diet quality over 12 years was consistently associated with a decreased risk of death. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health.).