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DAWSON: Let nutrition and exercise reduce hospital visits and healthcare inflation

Healthcare inflation will ease with encouragement of proper preventive and post-care treatment like nutrition and exercise

<p>Reducing hospital visits has also been tackled by insurance companies promoting nutrition and exercise.&nbsp;</p>

Reducing hospital visits has also been tackled by insurance companies promoting nutrition and exercise. 

According to a 2019 Brigham and Tufts’ joint study, a healthy diet could save $301 in annual healthcare costs for the average American related to cardiometabolic complications. Cardiometabolic diseases describe common, preventable diseases such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes that have been on the rise globally. Preventive health measures against these diseases translate to $50.4 billion in total savings for the American population. 

Interestingly, the cost distribution for CMD health services for all Americans were $254 dollars for acute care, $43 dollars for chronic care and only $4 for drugs to combat cardiometabolic disease. Acute care is 84.3 percent of cost because CMD consists of heart attacks and strokes — which entail repeated costly hospitalizations that are far more expensive than CMD-related drugs or chronic care. For instance, one in five Americans who have a heart attack are readmitted to a hospital after five years with another one. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, patients pay on average $21,500 per heart attack. We can avoid acute hospitalization and attain CMD savings as we promote personal health initiatives, generate health incentives within insurance companies and reevaluate our federal food subsidies to prioritize nutrition and exercise. 

To recap, cardiometabolic disease — a composite of three of the leading causes of death in America — has increasing costs driven by repeated, costly hospital visits. Seth Berkowitiz of UNC Chapel Hill and Community Servings Inc. investigated how to minimize this rate of hospitalization through tailoring patients' diets. Amidst their study, researchers found that medically tailored meals resulted in a 50 percent decline in hospitalizations and a 72 percent decline in admissions to nursing facilities among ill patients. This study suggests the merit of nutrition as a cost-effective treatment to decline hospital visits for those with pre-existing medical conditions. Even if you don’t have a pre-existing medical condition, researchers at Tufts University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital recommend that most Americans adopt a diet more consistent with nuts, seeds and omega-3 fats as a preventive to CMD. 

Reducing hospital visits has also been tackled by insurance companies promoting nutrition and exercise. Partnering with UK-based insurance company Vitality, John Hancock, a Canadian-based insurance company, is one of many adopting new programs to uphold health. Their first program involves progressive savings for completing exercise and annual health screenings. The second program entails savings for valuing nutrition. Policyholders receive up to $600 in cash back on annual grocery bills and earn program points that compound to reduce monthly premiums to 15 percent. Michael Doughtry — president of John Hancock insurance — remarked, “policyholders can be rewarded for both walking a few more steps and making healthy food choices to improve their overall health." Insurance companies like John Hancock are betting they can pay less overall coverage for their insured by incentivizing a healthy lifestyle with lower premiums and cash back on groceries.

Personal nutrition, medically tailored meals and insurance incentivized nutrition and exercise are all impactful endeavors to halting healthcare inflation. That being said, not all Americans using healthcare have access to proper nutrition or the funds for healthy shopping.

A major hindrance to proper nutrition are food deserts. Food deserts are locations where residents have few to no convenient possibilities to secure their families affordable and healthy food. In 2017, it was found that nearly 39.5 million people in the U.S. were living in food deserts. Moreover, a 2014 John Hopkins study discovered that Black people experienced a disparate lack of nearby supermarkets compared to their white counterparts — even when both groups were of lower socioeconomic status. To account for this disparity, we need to initiate proffers — a promise by housing developers to pay the local government a fee so development of housing can match local services, like schools and roads. Grocery stores should be funded and accounted for in proffer payment. Although proffer payments come out of developers’ pockets, loss is compensated by these capital investments — like grocery stores — which ultimately can raise nearby homes’ selling price. 

On the note of food purchase, American University found amid the pandemic Americans started to pay an average of 12 percent of their income on food, while lower-income Americans spent closer to 36 percent of their income on food purchase. While we cannot solve wealth inequality overnight, we can adjust our current policies to start the process now. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program reaches around 42 million low-income individuals annually. With the widespread net SNAP casts, I was surprised the federal program doesn’t incentivize nutrition. It should. 75 percent of those on SNAP have at least one member of their family on Medicaid. Akin to Hancock, the federal government, acting as insurance provider, can promote health through cash incentives for SNAP users — hoping that such incentives will reduce reliance on Medicaid. 

In sum, nutrition and exercise hold promise to deflate healthcare costs. However, low-income Americans still struggle with nutrition due to a lack of access and ability to purchase healthy food. Solutions to modern nutrition inequity should be addressed immediately. There is a capacity to incentivize cost-effective solutions to the issue of healthcare inflation. That capacity is nutrition and exercise. 

Rylan Dawson is an Opinion Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.