Diets high in meat, sugar and saturated fats, may increase the risk of metabolic diseases and also the societal and ecological burden. This study is an example of a Danish case that analyzed, if a healthy and regional diet can be an alternative strategy to improve public health.
Local and organic food
A New Nordic Diet (NND) was developed, based on consuming local products from a Nordic origin and organic status. The NND includes low meat consumption and a high intake of legumes, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, potatoes, nuts and herbs, compared to the Average Danish Diet (ADD).
To measure the cost-effectiveness of the full-scale implementation of the NND, the authors took into account the environmental impact, the health risk effects and the monetary value of this dietary shift.
Decreased environmental impact
The Environmental impacts of the ADD and the NND were evaluated for 15 impact categories, including human toxicity, ozone layer depletion, global warming and respiratory organics and inorganics. The results showed that the NND has more favorable environmental outcomes than the ADD: 17% lower for nature occupation, 16% for global warming, and 12% for respiratory inorganics. The monetary value of the environmental improvements was estimated to be €0.5–0.9 billion.
Health effects of this dietary shift
The scientists focused on the impacts of 10 dietary factors on the risks of up to 6 diet-related diseases: cardiovascular, stroke, diabetes, stomach, lung and breast cancer. The impact of this dietary shift was calculated in Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY). One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of “healthy” life.
The results showed that the dietary change save about 6500 DALY/year from cardiovascular disease, with main contributions from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, reduced consumption of meat and reduced consumption of sugared drinks. About 3000 and 1200 DALY/year are calculated to be saved from colorectal cancer and lung cancer, respectively. In total, an estimated 18000 DALY will be saved per year in Denmark from these six chronic diseases, with a cost-effect ratio of €73,000–94,000 per DALY.
Hence, implementation of the New Nordic Diet could be an economically relevant strategy for promotion of public health.