A Kellogg-commissioned study has suggested that $12.7bn in US healthcare costs could be saved if consumers ate more fiber.
The cereal major said the easiest way to plug this fiber deficit was through breakfast cereals and snack bars because of the convenience factor.
Published in the Journal of BMC Public Health, the research aimed to quantify the US fiber deficit in direct medical costs.
“Nearly five percent of Americans suffer from functional constipation, many of whom may benefit from increasing dietary fiber consumption. The annual constipation-related healthcare cost savings associated with increasing intakes may be considerable but have not been examined previously,” the researchers wrote.
Findings showed that if all US adults increased their fiber intake by about 9 g per day – to consumer around 25 g every day – there was a potential to save $12.7bn in health care costs.
Even if half of the US population upped their dietary fiber intake by three grams per day, there could be more than $2b in savings, the researchers said.
“The finding that $12.7 billion in direct medical costs of constipation could be averted through simple, realistic changes in dietary practices is promising and highlights the need for strategies to increase dietary fiber intakes… These strategies should include efforts to ensure all individuals have access to fiber-rich foods as well as efforts to modify individual dietary intake behavior, for example, providing nutrition education and increasing awareness of the health benefits of dietary fiber,” the researchers wrote.
Breakfast cereal or snack bars are the convenient option
Lisa Sanders, director of global nutrition and scientific affairs at Kellogg and one of the study’s authors, said there were a number of foods that could help consumers increase their fiber intake, from grain foods and legumes to fruits.
But, she told BakeryandSnacks.com that breakfast cereals and snack bars had a convenience factor.
“Breakfast cereals are a convenient, affordable and nutritious choice if you are looking to get fiber in the diet,” she said, noting that most contained at least three grams of fiber per serving.
She said consumers could also switch low-fiber snacks for those higher in fiber. “There is a wide variety of tasty choices available.”
Low fiber intake in US is a health concern
The fact that only one in ten Americans get the recommended amount of fiber in their diets, combined with the low overall level of fiber in the American diet, is a public health concern, Sanders said.
She said this drove Kellogg’s commitment to fiber research and continued development of cereals that are a good source of fiber.
The study used previously published literature to attain data on the population, fiber consumption and constipation problems. A literature search was also conducted to identify the cost of treatment for patients with functional constipation.
The researchers acknowledged that the ability to ascertain accurate prevalence and incidence of functional constipation using the model parameters in the study was difficult because there could have been misclassification, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose in the original data.
However, they added: “By using a fairly strict criterion for constipation, these findings may underestimate the number of potential patients and thus the potential cost savings.”
The researchers also highlighted that the economic input parameters and calculations did not account for a variety of scenarios and assumed that a 1.9% decrease in constipation would result in a 1.9% reduction in constipation-related costs.
However, they added that restricting the cost estimates to direct medical costs, rather than indirect costs like lost work days, meant the estimate could be conservative.
Source: Journal of BMC Public Health
Published online ahead of print, April 17. Doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-374
“Cost savings of reduced constipation rates attributed to increased dietary fiber intakes: a decision-analytic model”
Authors: JK. Schmier et al.