High-quality food that is!

We can save hundreds of billions in health-related costs if we just had access to high-quality healthy food and sustained diets. What people eat directly impacts their health and ultimately for what is spent on by the health cost sharing community whether it’s health insurance, government-sponsored healthcare, or the UhX community cost-sharing program.

A new Scrafford HC Cost Savings Report indicates that improving the quality of the average American’s diet could substantially reduce costs associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other major health problems. The study is the first to comprehensively analyze the potential cost implications of improved adherence to healthy dietary patterns — as measured by the Healthy Eating Index and the Mediterranean-style diet score — among U.S. adults across major chronic disease types. Previous research has focused on specific populations or specific conditions, such as heart disease.

With as little as 20% of the population adhering to those dietary patterns, in the US alone we could save more than $20 billion in direct and indirect costs, according to the research. What’s more, the authors think it’s attainable.

Food has always been a primary focus of any health program I have touted. There is plenty of research that illustrates diet as a means of achieving huge cost savings. Meal delivery programs, such as Meals-on-Wheels, reduce the cost of healthcare in dually eligible Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. Food has also been proposed as a possible means of cutting treatment costs for diabetes patients.

Both, the healthy eating index (HEI) and the Mediterranean-style diet (MED) score are markers of healthy dietary patterns. The HEI is used frequently to evaluate a U.S.-style diet and reflects adherence with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The MED was first used to describe the diet of countries in the Mediterranean region and emphasizes components such as fish, nuts, and fruits, along with olive oil as a healthy fat source.

The average American adult currently shows about 60 percent adherence to the HEI. If this were increased to 72 percent adherence (a relative increase of 20 percent), the analysis shows the U.S. could save $30-47 billion in health-related costs annually. Under the more ambitious scenario, if the average adult increased their adherence to 80 percent of the HEI, the researchers project an annual savings of $52-82 billion.

As the rest of the world catches up on the bad eating habits of Americans, diet should be the focus of every community. The increasing understanding of overall community dietary patterns rather than individual nutrients or foods are the drivers.

But alas, it’s unlikely that Americans will change their dietary patterns overnight or that the projected health improvements would immediately reduce health-related costs. However, the numbers do provide a reference point for understanding the potential benefits of adopting a healthier diet.

Incentives to adopt healthier dietary patterns into the family is a priority of the UhX Community Cost Sharing model.

et sanitas tua – to your health,

Dr. Gordon Jones