The NatLife 2020 strategic alliance programme seeks to identify and develop new and biologically active natural substances to help food manufacturers to improve their formulations. The resultant new products will come with the same delicious taste but will be reduced in their salt, sugar and/or fat content. This way they may notably contribute to improving consumers’ nutrition, health and wellbeing.
At the outset of the project, the researchers at BRAIN and the University of Halle-Wittenberg raised the question of whether improved food formulations could at the same time help reduce healthcare costs in Germany, if the population’s actual intake of substances which pose a health risk such as sugar, salt and fat would be in accordance to the official dietary recommendations by the German Nutrition Society (DGE).
Based on representative health costs and intake data, the team of researchers calculated the price of an unbalanced dietary intake of sugar, salt and saturated fats, the three groups of substances Germans often have an unrestrained appetite for and thus clearly exceed official daily allowance recommendations. The team investigated relevant diseases and finally put together a list of 22 clinical endpoints. According to this research, the highest healthcare costs are caused by cardiovascular diseases (Euro 7.7bn), dental decay (Euro 3.6bn), metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity (Euro 2.1bn) as well as various types of cancer (Euro 1.1bn). All-in-all, healthcare costs caused by making the wrong food choices added up to Euro 16.8bn.
“The cost directly associated with nutrition-related diseases due to the excessive intake of salt, sugar and fat is substantial. However, the potential savings are even higher if secondary diseases triggered by obesity and diabetes, such as weight-related arthrosis, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic kidney disease, which so far have received little attention, are also factored in,” says Dr Toni Meier, University of Halle-Wittenberg, the author of the study. Against the backdrop of an increasingly ageing, but not healthier population, and the concomitant higher health care spending, the results of the study may provide an indication of where prophylactic measures might be most effective and worthwhile.
Dr Katja Riedel, BRAIN’s leading scientist for natural substances to improve food formulations and co-author of the publication explains: “We were absolutely surprised by the actual level of costs. Even more so, because in our current study we only considered direct treatment costs. Indirect costs caused by the loss of working hours, medical rehabilitation or incapacity to work need to be added to the direct costs.”
“The results of the study are encouraging as they show that we are on the right track with the NatLife 2020 research approach. If we manage to replace roughly one third of the sugar, salt or fat used in food formulations by new natural substances, five to six billion Euro could be saved in the German health care system year after year. If the formulations were also used in other EU countries and the U.S., potential savings would be considerably higher,” sums up co-author Dr Martin Langer, Executive Vice President Corporate Development at BRAIN.
The interdisciplinary team of scientists published their research results in the PLOS ONE journal on 9 September 2015. The article can be downloaded free of charge at:
[plos one] (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0135990)
The successful co-operation between BRAIN AG and the University of Halle-Wittenberg in the NatLife 2020 programme, which led to the newly published results, already continues. The partners’ long-term objective is to determine the health economic burden of unbalanced nutrition between 2010 and 2013 and, based on the outcome, to create various reduction scenarios.