By now, you should know how I feel about “dieting.”
Sure, helping my patients and readers lose weight has been one of the cornerstones of my career. But a “diet” is really nothing more than the food you eat. And those dietary choices affect a whole lot more than just your weight. In fact, they impact just about every aspect of your health imaginable.
Unfortunately, that message hasn’t sunk in for a lot of people. And it doesn’t seem to be enough to motivate a lot of people to think twice about their food choices.
That’s why I want to take a different approach today—and talk a little bit about the cold, hard financial costs that come along with eating poorly.
Nutrition by the numbers
A new study estimated the annual costs linked to treatment of cardiometabolic disease—that is, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It found that of the $276.3 billion we spend every year on treating these diseases, over $50 billion is attributable to questionable dietary choices.
Researchers considered the costs associated with ten common food and nutrient classifications—fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fats from seafood, and sodium—with positive or negative links to cardiometabolic health.
And they estimated that nearly 20 percent of the costs associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in the U.S. trace directly back to what people are—and aren’t—eating.
The actual figure amounted to $301 per person, per year. And the largest portion of that total was attributed to not eating enough nuts, seeds, and omega-3 fats from fish. (All of which are essential to a healthy, balanced diet.)
In fact, the researchers estimated that the average American consumes less than 20 percent of the recommended amount of nuts and seeds per day. (Twenty grams—or a small handful—is recommended daily to reap the most benefits.)
Meanwhile, eating what they considered “too much” red meat was only associated with a $3 increase in treatment costs per person—a metaphorical drop in the bucket by comparison. And according to these researchers, the risks of red meat are massively overstated—which I’ve been telling you for years!
Finally, researchers also linked higher consumption of processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages to higher medical costs.
(Though I was impressed to learn that nearly half the population avoids sugar-sweetened beverages—and nearly one-third avoids regular consumption of processed meats. I don’t know about you, but I was not expecting such reassuring numbers in this arena!)
Interestingly, while these researchers estimated some reductions in drug costs with dietary improvements, a good 80 percent of the savings would come from a drop in acute care hospitalizations (like from heart attacks and stroke).
A hidden price tag
I have shouted this from the rooftops for decades, but as a country, we spend a staggering amount of money on poor dietary choices. The overprocessed junk we’re collectively gorging on may be cheap… but the consequences are anything but.
It’s borderline criminal, really. And you would think the government would be interested in doing something about it, since our tax dollars are footing the majority of this bill.
Studies like this are a step in the right direction. And while I’m sure I would disagree with some of the conclusions—like recommendations to restrict salt, for example—any research that encourages us to consider the high cost of poor nutrition gets a thumbs up in my book.
If nothing else, these findings underscore the fact that addressing just a few simple dietary factors could potentially save us billions of dollars in preventable medical care—to say nothing of the lives and livelihoods it could save.
Yet somehow, here we are, dealing with the same half-baked nutrition advice year after year… and wondering why we just keep getting fatter and sicker.
Not to mention, even the latest set of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines remain as ridiculous as ever. And if we ever want to see a real change to the public health, I dare say we might be wise to start there.
I’ll explain my viewpoint on those “guidelines” in more detail tomorrow. So, as always, stay tuned…
P.S. For additional ways to protect your heart from America’s biggest killers—high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke—check out my Ultimate Heart Summit. To learn more about this innovative, online learning tool, or to enroll today, click here now!
“Suboptimal Diet May Drive $50 Billion in Cardiometabolic Costs.” Medscape Medical News, 12/31/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/923257)