Modest calorie, sodium reductions benefit health

by Bryan Salvage
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OMAHA, NEB. — Results of two new studies show modest reductions in calorie and sodium intake can significantly benefit health, leading to improved productivity and a reduction in U.S. medical expenditures, according to ConAgra Foods. The analysis of government data is the first of its kind to document the impact of positive diet improvements on a nationwide basis, the company claims.

Published in the July issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, the research is critical to understanding how to improve health through dietary choices, says lead author Timothy Dall of The Lewin Group. "One of the most revealing findings was just how big an impact 100 calories less per day can have compared to the more modest benefit of sodium reductions," Mr. Dall said.

The studies were commissioned by ConAgra Foods as part of the company’s overarching commitment to health and wellness, which it supports through programs like Start Making Choices, a consumer health and wellness program that encourages healthy habits for a balanced life. The Lewin Group and Nutrition Impact LLC conducted the studies.

"As a leading food company, it’s important for us to create an understanding of the link between diet and health for our consumers," said Mark Andon, vice-president of Nutrition at ConAgra Foods. "A key learning here is that making simple dietary improvements — such as a Healthy Choice meal in place of take-out lunch — empowers people to make meaningful changes that can translate to healthier lives, less costly health care and increased productivity."

Both studies documented the impact of diet changes among the 225 million adults living in America by using information from sources such as the National Center for Health Statistics, The National Academy of Sciences and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The results show eating 100 calories less per day for each adult would lead to more than $100 billion in savings over the entire adult population based on today’s costs.

This would come from $58 billion worth of medical-cost savings by reducing the number of cases of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases; plus an increase in national productivity of $46 billion due to reduced absenteeism and disability. This research found that the combined economic gain from medical cost savings and productivity gains from reducing dietary sodium intake by 400 milligrams would be about $5 billion.

"Larger changes in calories and sodium intake would generate greater medical cost savings and more improvements in productivity," Mr. Dall said. "Based on our analysis, cutting calories by 500 per day would lead to $243 billion in savings, whereas, reducing sodium by 1100 milligrams would generate $11 billion in savings. Although many adults could benefit from cutting back on both sodium and calories, the return on investment for long-term health is clearly greater for calories."

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