This is the carrot medical aids should be dangling
They could save billions in healthcare costs by rewarding people for eating healthier, a study has found
A daily diet of fruit, vegetables, walnuts, almonds, rye and olive oil will not only fill you up for longer but help to save your life.
If medical aids were to offer clients incentives for eating healthily, they could prevent millions of cardiovascular cases and save billions in healthcare costs, a study in the US has found.
The Tufts University nutrition scientists who led the research – reported in the journal PLoS One – offered food incentives to groups of people who belong to the Medicare and Medicaid health schemes.
One group was given a fruit and vegetable incentive while another group was encouraged to eat other “healthy foods” as well, including whole grains, nuts, seeds, seafood and plant oils.
Over patients’ lifetimes, the researchers calculated the fruit and vegetables incentive could prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular disease events and 350,000 cardiovascular deaths. It would also save $40bn in healthcare costs.
The more radical healthy food incentive would prevent 3.28 million cardiovascular cases, 620,000 cardiovascular deaths and 120,000 diabetes cases. Prescription of these healthy foods would also save $100bn in healthcare costs.
Both programmes were found to be cost-effective over five years and progressively more cost-effective the longer they lasted.
If additional savings in the form of productivity gains and informal healthcare costs were taken into consideration, they became even more worthwhile.
SA’s largest medical scheme, Discovery Health, agreed that eating healthily could go a long way in saving lives and saving the healthcare industry billions of rands.
Spokesperson Khensani Mthombeni said data from its health rewards programme, Vitality, showed that members claimed less for medical care than those who did not sign up.
“This means that they are healthier, go to the doctor less and tend to spend less on healthcare costs or chronic conditions,” she said.
Mthombeni said one of the major drivers of healthcare costs was ageing and the high prevalence of lifestyle diseases associated with bad diets, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
At least one in four members of Discovery Health are registered for one or more chronic conditions, a 61% increase since 2008, and Mthombeni said these individuals claimed four times more than healthy members.
Anneke Landman, a Cape Town yoga instructor and breast cancer survivor, said eating well had transformed her life.
Landman, an integrative health coach, said living with cancer “forced me to take a long, hard look at my diet and lifestyle”.
“I now look back and see it as a blessing in disguise – cancer saved my life in a way. Before my diagnosis I was living a very fast-paced, unhealthy and pro-inflammatory lifestyle. I thought that my body was bulletproof and felt disconnected, self-care was not a priority,” she said.
She now eats gut-friendly foods and those with anti-inflammatory effects, and is convinced they have helped her to stay in remission.
“I focus a lot on the microbiome (gut health), where inflammation often manifests first. My energy levels are now fantastic,” she said.
“By cooking my own healthy, nutrient-dense meals, I do not waste money on expensive convenience foods. Planning ahead, such as cooking extra for dinner and taking lunch to work, also saves.