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National policies on healthy eating could reduce cancer-related costs, increase life expectancy

09/27/2019

A new modeling study out of Tufts Medical Center indicates that implementing an excise tax or warning label on processed meats could result in significantly improved health benefits for Americans and substantial cost savings for the U.S. healthcare system. The study, “Cost Effectiveness of Nutrition Policies on Processed Meat: Implications for Cancer Burden in the U.S.,” was published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on September 27, 2019.

A headshot of David Kim, PhDThe cost-effectiveness modeling study, led by David Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor and Investigator at the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health (CEVR) in the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center, used a U.S. population-based simulation model to project cancer and economic outcomes of taxes and warning labels on processed meats.

The results were striking: over an average American lifetime, a 10 percent excise tax was found to prevent 77,000 colorectal cancer cases and 12,500 stomach cancer cases, add 593,000 life years in perfect health (known as quality-adjusted life years) to the U.S. population and generate economic savings of $2.7 billion, including $1.14 billion savings in health care costs. The warning label policy was found to have an even bigger impact on cancer outcomes (85,400 colorectal and 15,000 stomach cancer cases averted) and net savings ($4.5 billion, including $1.31 billion health care costs). 

“Our study’s findings provide a clear indication that population-based policies, such as taxes or warning labels, are effective in discouraging the consumption of processed meat and will generate substantial health and economic benefits,” said Dr. Kim. “Our model also shows that these policies may contribute to reducing health disparities, due to the relatively higher cancer risk in certain demographic populations.”

Excessive consumption of processed meats—those preserved through salting or curing—has been associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal and stomach cancer. But despite the growing public health concerns, processed meat consumption has not changed among U.S. adults over the past decade. 

“In recent years, U.S. policy efforts to discourage the consumption of harmful foods, including processed meats, have been gaining traction and attention,” said Dr. Kim. “Our findings provide additional support of the health and fiscal benefits of moving forward with policy interventions against unhealthy foods.”

The study was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) R01MD011501.