Mediterranean Diet Could Save U.S. Economy Billions

A new study has shown the cost-effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet.

Jun. 27, 2018
By Lisa Anderson

Recent News

A study released at the Amer­i­can Soci­ety for Nutri­tion annual meet­ing ear­lier this month revealed if twenty per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion adheres to a Mediter­ranean diet it could save the United States more than $20 bil­lion annu­ally.

Our research has shown that mod­est, real­is­tic shifts in con­for­mance with a healthy U.S.-style and Mediter­ranean-style dietary pat­tern at the pop­u­la­tion level can result in sub­stan­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fit.- Car­olyn Scraf­ford, Expo­nent

Pre­vi­ous research focused on spe­cific con­di­tions, but the lat­est study com­pre­hen­sively ana­lyzed health-related costs asso­ci­ated with heart dis­ease, dia­betes, can­cer as well as other chronic health con­di­tions.

The study fur­ther ana­lyzed the eco­nomic impli­ca­tions of increased adher­ence to a healthy diet.

The two diets included in the study were the Healthy Eat­ing Index (HEI), which mea­sures con­for­mance to the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans; and the Mediter­ranean diet. The Mediter­ranean diet is one of three diets included in the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans.

The results of the study, which was funded by the National Dairy Coun­cil, were pre­sented at the annual meet­ing in Boston by Car­olyn Scraf­ford, a senior man­ag­ing sci­en­tist at Expo­nent, a sci­en­tific con­sult­ing firm.


Con­cern­ing the Mediter­ranean diet, the study found the aver­age Amer­i­can adult scores 3.5 out of 9 on the MED score, which is used to assess adher­ence to the Mediter­ranean diet. The study found if this adher­ence were raised by twenty per­cent, it could save the U.S. econ­omy approx­i­mately $21 – 26 bil­lion annu­ally in health-related costs.

The lower esti­mate included sav­ings relat­ing to breast, col­orec­tal and prostate can­cer; as well as coro­nary heart dis­ease, stroke, type 2 dia­betes, hip frac­tures and Alzheimer’s dis­ease. The higher esti­mate added all other types of can­cer to the above con­di­tions.

The study pro­jected annual sav­ings could reach $112 – 135 bil­lion if Amer­i­cans increased adher­ence to the Mediter­ranean diet to eighty per­cent.

Regard­ing adher­ence to the HEI, the study showed the aver­age Amer­i­can adhered to it by approx­i­mately 60 per­cent. If this were increased to 72 per­cent it could save the U.S. econ­omy $30 – 47 bil­lion annu­ally. It was pro­jected if the aver­age Amer­i­can adult could increase their HEI adher­ence to 80 per­cent, it could save the econ­omy $52 – 82 bil­lion annu­ally.

Accord­ing to the study close to half of the pro­jected sav­ings were based on a reduc­tion in costs asso­ci­ated with heart dis­ease; which researchers noted as preva­lent in the U.S., costly and heav­ily influ­enced by diet. They pointed out small improve­ments in diet qual­ity could result in mean­ing­ful cost sav­ings.

The response to this research has been very pos­i­tive over­all at both the Nutri­tion 2018 meet­ing as well as after this meet­ing,” Scraf­ford told Olive Oil Times.

Explain­ing the cat­a­lyst for her research, Scraf­ford said: It is becom­ing widely rec­og­nized that dietary pat­terns may be more rel­e­vant for pre­dict­ing health out­comes, given that indi­vid­ual diet ele­ments are not con­sumed in iso­la­tion and there are poten­tial syn­er­gis­tic effects on health out­comes.

We were inter­ested in quan­ti­fy­ing the poten­tial impact on health­care costs if the U.S. adult pop­u­la­tion were to improve their con­for­mance with dietary pat­terns rec­om­mended as part of the most recent Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans,” she said in ref­er­ence to the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans. The Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans is pub­lished jointly by the Depart­ments of Health, and Health and Human Ser­vices every five years.

Scraf­ford’s team ana­lyzed pub­lished sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture to iden­tify recent sta­tis­tics from mul­ti­ple stud­ies on asso­ci­a­tions between spe­cific chronic health con­di­tions and adher­ence to the HEI and the Mediter­ranean diet.

They esti­mated the costs asso­ci­ated with these health con­di­tions by study­ing case reports and by using data released by var­i­ous promi­nent health orga­ni­za­tions, such as The Amer­i­can Heart Asso­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Dia­betes Asso­ci­a­tion.

The costs cal­cu­lated were direct costs such as med­ical fees and indi­rect costs such as lost wages.

Our research has shown that mod­est, real­is­tic shifts in con­for­mance with a healthy U.S.-style and Mediter­ranean-style dietary pat­tern at the pop­u­la­tion level can result in sub­stan­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fit,” Scraf­ford told Olive Oil Times.

Scraf­ford expressed opti­mism regard­ing Amer­i­cans mak­ing dietary changes. In my own opin­ion, yes, on a pop­u­la­tion level I think it is not unrea­son­able to antic­i­pate see­ing con­tin­ued improve­ment in the U.S. adult population’s diet qual­ity.

Other researchers have shown sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in the U.S. population’s con­for­mance to the healthy U.S.-style dietary pat­tern over the past decade as mea­sured by the HEI,” she said.

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