The US government could save more than $200 billion in healthcare costs in the next five years if it could persuade American adults to eat three or four servings of dairy foods each day, estimate the authors of a new report.
Nutrients in dairy foods have been shown to reduce risk of a number of chronic diseases, write David McCarron from the University of California, Davis and Robert Heaney of Creighton University in today's issue of the American Journal of Hypertension. These include obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.
The authors, supported by a National Dairy Council grant, used data from around 100 prospective longitudinal studies and randomized controlled trials, spanning two decades, to assess the benefits of increased dairy food intake on nine common conditions, their outcomes, and their costs.
Estimated improvements in outcomes were combined with available data on annual costs of the respective disorders, thought to be worth about $264 billion in direct healthcare costs annually.
"Using conservative estimates of potential benefit, we project first-year savings of approximately $26 billion and five-year cumulative savings in excess of $200 billion," report the researchers.
The report suggests that small diet changes may contribute to significant healthcare cost savings and a healthier population.
"Small changes will make a big difference. The science suggests that even if a very small percentage -- say 15 per cent of the population -- would increase its daily intake of milk, cheese or yogurt, the healthcare system would begin realizing savings immediately," said McCarron.
Following the recommendation for three to four dairy food servings each day could reduce prevalence of hypertension by 40 per cent in one year, and cut obesity by 5 per cent. This would be reduced a further 20 per cent after five years, estimated the authors, leading to savings of $37.5 billion.
Dairy consumption could also significantly cut the risk of fracture from osteoporosis (by 20 per cent), they suggest.