|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
The Medical Costs Attributable to Meat Consumption
Methods. The prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity, and foodborne illness among omnivores and vegetarians are compared in studies that have controlled for other lifestyle factors, and the corresponding attributable medical costs are calculated in 1992 dollars.
Results. Direct health care costs attributable to meat consumption are estimated to be $2.8-8.5 billion for hypertension, $9.5 billion for heart disease, $0-16.5 billion for cancer, $14.0-17.1 billion for diabetes, $0.2-2.4 billion for gallbladder disease, $1.9 billion for obesityrelated musculoskeletal disorders, and $0.2-5.5 billion for foodborne illness. The total direct medical costs attributable to meat consumption for 1992 are estimated at $28.6-61.4 billion.
Conclusion. Health care costs attributable to meat consumption are quantifiable and substantial.
Key Words: medical costs; meat; vegetarianism; nutrition.
1995 Academic Press, Inc.
INTRODUCTIONEscalating health care costs have highlighted the need to identify factors that maintain high demand for medical services. Dietary factors share with tobacco a great responsibility for illness in American adults, contributing to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, gallstones, foodborne illness, and other conditions. Unlike the situation with tobacco, little attention has been directed to estimating the contribution of dietary factors to the cost of treating diseases.
Cost-of-illness studies can be done in two ways. Prevalence-based analyses estimate the costs incurred in a given year for given illnesses regardless of disease stage. They are appropriate for estimating the magnitude of annual costs attributable to disease. Incidence-based analyses estimate the lifetime costs of illness and are particularly suited to estimating potential costs and savings that would accrue from interventions. Such analyses require reliable information on disease incidence at various ages, the course of illness, and the delayed effects of interventions.
Available data permit a prevalence-based estimation of the contribution of meat consumption to medical care costs for several conditions. Differences in disease prevalence between omnivores and vegetarians, controlled for other lifestyle factors, were examined and corresponding attributable costs were estimated.
METHODSA literature search was conducted for published studies that reported differences in disease prevalence between omnivores and vegetarians for hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity, and foodborne illness. Most such studies involve ovolactovegetarian diets, i.e., diets excluding red meat, fish, and poultry, but including eggs and dairy products. Vegan (pure vegetarian) diets have been the subject of far fewer research studies.
Because omnivores and vegetarians may differ in many ways apart from diet, studies that controlled for the effects of smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and other factors where relevant were selected. Adjustment for differences in body weight was not appropriate to the current analysis because increased body weight is one of the presumed mechanisms by which dietary factors may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and gallstones.
Medical costs attributable to meat consumption were considered to be the fraction of direct treatment costs that corresponded to the excess prevalence of disease among omnivores, compared with vegetarians, in studies controlling for potentially confounding factors Nonmedical costs, such as lost productivity, were not considered. Where necessary, costs were adjusted to 1992 dollars using the medical care component of the consumer price index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.