Dec. 19 -- Healthier eating could save the United States more than $50 billion a year in health care costs associated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and related illnesses, according to a new study.
An unhealthy diet is one of the leading risk factors for poor health and accounts for up to 45 percent of all deaths from these cardiometabolic diseases, the researchers noted.
But the economic cost of illnesses caused by poor eating habits hadn't been tallied.
In this study, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Tufts University in Massachusetts created a model to measure the impact of 10 food and nutrient groups on cardiometabolic disease costs for Americans aged 35 to 85 years. Those 10 groups were fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, whole grains, unprocessed red meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, polyunsaturated fats, seafood omega-3 fats and sodium.
The researchers first looked at the effects of current eating habits and then did a recalculation if Americans ate the healthiest amounts of the 10 food/nutrient groups.
The study authors concluded that poor eating habits cost the United States about $300 per person, or $50 billion, a year and accounted for 18 percent of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes costs.
Of those costs, 84 percent was for acute care, the researchers reported. Costs were highest for people with Medicare ($481 per person) and for those who were eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid ($536 per person).
The study was published Dec. 17 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
"There is a lot to be gained in terms of reducing risk and cost associated with heart disease, stroke and diabetes by making relatively simple changes to one's diet," said study co-author Dr. Thomas Gaziano, of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston.
"Our study indicates that the foods we purchase at the grocery store can have a big impact. I was surprised to see a reduction of as much as 20 percent of the costs associated with these cardiometabolic diseases," he added in a hospital news release.
Gaziano said the study illustrates the need for incentives for healthier eating habits, because improved diets have the potential "to have a big impact and reduce the health and financial burden of cardiometabolic disease."
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