Doctors have been urged to raise awareness among patients of the importance of consuming sufficient dietary calcium for healthy bones.
The advice follows pioneering new research showing that boosting calcium intake through increases in dairy food consumption could contribute to reducing the risk of osteoporotic bone fractures and thus lead to major savings in healthcare costs.
The study, ‘An example of Assessing the Health–Economic Impact of Food Products’ is published in the journal Osteoporosis International, a leading journal in bone health. It used an innovative methodology designed to quantify the health economics of food products to estimate the beneficial impact of dairy food consumption on osteoporotic bone fractures in terms of health outcomes and cost.
Nutrition economics – approach and results
Researchers designed an economic model to estimate the impact of dietary calcium intake in people over the age of 50 in the general population of three different European countries, the Netherlands, France and Sweden.
It calculated that for everyone over-50 to achieve the RDI* of 1200-1300mg calcium it would cost an extra €0.44, €0.64 and €0.68 in food products per person a day in the Netherlands, France and Sweden respectively.
But the study found that this strategy could potentially prevent 2,023, 455 and 132 hip fractures per year in France, Sweden and the Netherlands respectively and potentially reduce the costs of treating hip fractures (the cost of treating hip fractures minus the cost of additional dairy products) by €129 million, €34 million and €6 million in each of the three countries.
The burden of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a major health problem worldwide. It is estimated that 6% of all men and 21% of all women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and it causes more than 3 million fractures a year in Europe, mainly in the hip, forearm and spine (1). One out of two women at the age of 50 will experience a fracture during the rest of their life.
Aside from the human suffering associated with the disease, osteoporosis is expensive. The total financial burden in 2010 in the EU 5* was estimated at €29.3 billion (or €30.7 billion when Sweden is included) (1). This does not take into account additional expenses associated with the frequently occurring loss of independence.
Nutrition economics – the impact on osteoporosis of a food-based preventative approach
This new discipline provides a rationale for food-based prevention of fractures. Such a public health strategy is both effective and affordable.
“We must start to convince people to modify their behaviour and thus reduce their risk of osteoporotic fracture,” says study author Professor Rene Rizzoli, Professor of Medicine and Head of the Division of Bone Disease at the University Hospitals of Geneva.
“Among the elderly there’s a high prevalence of poor nutrition so it’s important doctors tell patients about the need to keep to a well-balanced diet. Dairy products are an important part of this well-balanced diet.
“We should also encourage healthy eating in younger individuals – it’s likely that establishing good food habits in young people will last throughout their lifetime and give important health benefits as they grow older.”
Professor Rizzoli adds: “Our study has shown that nutrition medicine is cost effective – for a small expenditure on food initiatives we will save money through fracture prevention. It is well worth policy-makers and governments investing in developing good communication strategies to modify food intakes – and it is much more easy, convenient and pleasant than taking pills.”
Lötters FJB, Lenoir-Wijnkoop I, Fardellone P, Rizzoli R, Rocher E, Poley M.J. Dairy foods and Osteoporosis: An example of Assessing the Health–Economic Impact of Food Products. Osteoporosis Int (online June 2012).