Cholesterol-lowering foods to be refunded under Dutch health insurance

Related tags Cholesterol

Dutch health insurer VGZ is to reimburse policyholders who buy
Unilever's range of cholesterol-lowering margarine, yoghurt and
milk products in a bid to reduce medical costs related to heart
disease, it said yesterday.

It is thought to be the first time an insurance company will subsidise food rather than medicine and comes as a strong sign of support for sterol-containing products.

It could also set a precedent for other functional foods to be reimbursed under health insurance.

VGZ is one of the six largest health insurers in The Netherlands with about 2 million customers. Its policyholders will be able to claim up to €40 a year to refund purchases of Becel pro-active products made by Unilever.

A spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch group told "Since introducing these products in the Netherlands in 2000 we have seen double-digit growth. This will definitely have a positive impact on sales in 2005 and help us get another year of strong growth."

According to the company, VGZ took the initial steps in setting up the deal but the margarine maker had been preparing to approach insurance providers. It is also in talks with another insurance firm in the Netherlands.

It did not comment on whether it has similar plans in other European states.

One in three people in The Netherlands have high levels of cholesterol, according to VGZ, and it currently faces costs of €35 million a year for cholesterol-lowering medication.

The plant sterol-containing margarines and other products under the Becel brand have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 per cent. A study on Benecol-containing milk made by Emmi found that cholesterol absorption was reduced from about 70 per cent with a regular milk to 40 per cent with the sterol milk.

Almost one fifth of global stroke events and more than half of global heart diseases are attributable to high cholesterol levels.

The UK is currently the biggest market for sterol-based foods but the European market is set to expand rapidly as regulatory approvals for new applications last year increase the number of foods available with sterols.

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