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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