Sugar-induced oral disease poses highest burden for German health care system
HALLE (SAALE), Germany: In the Western world, non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dental caries, are mainly attributable to an unbalanced intake of fats, sugars and salt. In calculating the economic burden of diet-induced diseases and related treatment costs, researchers have found that oral health problems caused by excessive consumption of sugars constitute the greatest part of health care costs in Germany.
Various studies have shown that excessive intake of salt is associated with a broad range of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Saturated fatty acids elevate the risk of dyslipoproteinemia, with an increase in cholesterol, and there is evidence of a possible risk of cardiovascular disease. As for sugars, there is convincing evidence that a diet rich in sugar-sweetened beverages is correlated with developing dental caries, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
In order to investigate direct cost savings attributable to adequate intake of saturated fatty acids, salt and sugars, researchers from the Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, together with colleagues from the BRAIN Biotechnology Research and Information Network in Zwingenberg, analysed direct treatment costs for 137 disease groups based on health data from the German Federal Statistical Office for 2002–2008. In the study, direct costs were considered to be those costs that arise directly through treatment, prevention, medication, physician visits and hospital stays. Indirect costs, such as wage losses, early retirement and premature death, were omitted from the analyses.
The researchers found direct health care costs associated with an unbalanced diet to be €16.8 billion in 2008 in Germany. This represents 7 per cent of the country’s total treatment costs of €254 billion and corresponds to annual health care costs of €205 per person in the same year.
Sugars were found to pose the highest burden for the health care system, with direct costs at €8.6 billion, followed by salt at €5.3 billion and saturated fatty acids at €2.9 billion. According to the researchers, the substantial impact of sugar consumption found in the study was mainly due to the costs of treating caries and other diseases of the hard tissue of teeth, hypertensive and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, rectal and colon cancer, as well as chronic kidney disease.
Acknowledging that the recent study included direct medical treatment costs only, the researchers remarked that the actual societal and economic gains resulting from both direct and indirect cost savings may easily exceed €16.8 billion, especially when considering the results against the backdrop of a steadily ageing society and the foreseeable increases in non-communicable disease burdens. Hence, they suggested that measures aimed at optimising diets and recipes be used as effective leverage in order to relieve pressure on health care, health insurance and national tax levy systems.
The study, titled “Healthcare costs associated with an adequate intake of sugars, salt and saturated fat in Germany: A health econometrical analysis”, was published online on 9 September in the PLOS ONE journal.