Nutrition Economics – food as an ally of public health
The March Nutrition Society Paper of the month is from British Journal of Nutrition and is entitled ‘Nutrition economics – food as an ally of public health’.
The World Economic Forum recently highlighted non-communicable diseases (NCD) as one of the three most significant risks to global well-being (i). NCD are recognised as an increasing contributor to morbidity and mortality rates in developing and industrialised countries and their related escalating healthcare costs have become a major concern for health authorities all over the world. Epidemiological and scientific evidence demonstrates clear links between food and health maintenance/disease development indicating that much of the chronic disease burden is preventable through the modification of lifestyle behaviours. Nutrition has been identified as an essential modifiable determinant of NCD. Nutrition economics, a recent merge of health economics and nutrition sciences, aims to assess the impact of diet on health and disease outcomes and to evaluate options for changing food choices.
Our paper brings together in a concise manner the significant role of nutrition to the forefront in global-scale public health relevance, through acknowledging the economic burden of undernutrition and/or overeating in specific countries. Three presentations, demonstrating how nutrition-related health benefits can translate into economic terms are summarised and offer the reader key insights on different aspects of the relationship between nutrition and public health concerns, both in developing and industrialised countries.
Nutrition economics is relevant in all counties and applies to health policy decision-making for all types of nutritional interventions across the health field. The role of nutrition in reducing the public health burden is discussed in relation to 1) alleviating undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, 2) promoting healthy choice of conventional foods and 3) enhancing the use of functional foods for health improvement and disease risk reduction. This paper emphasises the need to improve awareness among health care professionals, authorities and decision makers and to actively engage in the assessment and translation of nutrition research data into nutritional strategies.
It is explained how health economic methodologies in relation to nutrition can apply to policy translation: 1) by first establishing the cost or burden of disease 2) by economic evaluation of food habits in real life and 3) by defining clear strategies on how best to achieve the desired change in nutritional behaviour. It is clear that specific steps need to be taken to face the challenge of conducting measurements adapted to the complexity of food and its interactions with multiple interdependent genetic, physiological, metabolic and other factors, in order to achieve evidence-based practice and decision-making in the field of nutrition.
Preventive strategies aimed at the (sub) healthy population are key to assure an optimal cost containment of the health care expenditures. New insights obtained through well-conducted nutrition economic studies may provide a solid basis for all concerned stakeholders to implement efficient prevention policies. Policymakers should reevaluate health as an ubiquitous human asset and grasp this as an opportunity to drive positive societal change in nutritional behavior.
Nutrition Society Paper of the Month
Each month a paper is selected by one of the Editors of the five Nutrition Society Publications (British Journal of Nutrition, Public Health Nutrition, Nutrition Research Reviews, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and Journal of Nutritional Science). This paper is freely available for one month.