Health

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.