Better diet leads to better population health and has economic benefits – but it takes time

The Paper of the Month for March is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled "Diet quality improvement and 30-year population health and economic outcomes: a microsimulation study" by Patricia M Herman, ND, PhD

Better diet quality, measured by adherence to dietary guidelines, reduces the risk of chronic illness. This effect is independent of being obese or being overweight. We built a simulation model to study what would happen to population health and related economic outcomes over the next 30 years if the average US diet could be improved to the quality of the top 20%. 

Improving diet does not lead to immediate big changes, rather the changes add up over time. If people began to improve their diet now, in 30 years there would be almost 6 million fewer people with diabetes (a reduction of 11.5% from current trends), 4 million fewer people with heart disease (a reduction of 7.2%) and almost 2 million fewer people who had suffered a stroke (a 10.3% reduction) compared to no changes in diet. These reductions in disease would come with 88,000 fewer deaths in year 30 and reductions in healthcare costs that same year of $144 billion or 1.7%. 

We created an interactive calculator to show results over time in absolute and relative terms for different outcomes and groupings. Access the tool here.

Use the calculator to look at the pattern of changes over 30 years due to diet improvements for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, disability, mortality, quality of life, employment, healthcare expenditures, and other measures.