Diet-Related Illnesses Cost U.S. Economy $1 Trillion Annually

Photo: Stethoscope with a chart showing vital signs
Down to Earth

Direct and Indirect Costs of Poor Diet Add Up

Honolulu, HI (Oct. 1, 2016) – Down to Earth found that the U.S.’s top five diet-related chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy a staggering $1 trillion each year! This is an estimate of direct medical costs and the indirect impact of productivity losses due to illness and premature death associated with chronic heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis.

“In observance of October World Vegetarian Awareness Month, we wanted to understand the economic impact of a poor diet,” says Sabra Rebo, who is a registered dietitian and Down to Earth’s community outreach team leader.  “We were astounded by what we learned.”

Her findings are based on the most currently available estimates from related health and governmental sources:

Disease Data Source Cost (In Billions $)*
Cardiovascular and stroke (2016)1 American Heart Association $320.1
Cancer (2009)2 American Cancer Society 216.6
Diabetes (2017)3 American Diabetes Association 327
Obesity (2017)4 United Health Foundation 342.2
Osteoporosis (2016)5 National Osteoporosis Foundation 19
Total   $1224.90

* These numbers are not conclusive, as they come from different online, albeit reliable, sources that used different methodologies to calculate their estimates, and reflect different time frames.

Sabra adds, “A vegetarian diet is not only good for the nation’s economy, it’s also good for one’s personal health.”

According to an annual estimate by Fidelity Investments, which has been tracking healthcare costs for decades, Sabra found that the average couple retiring in 2016 at age 65 will need $260,000 to cover medical costs in retirement. This holds whether the couple has bought Medicare supplemental insurance or not, according to Fidelity.6

“Diet-related diseases are costly and preventable, so the message is clear. Eat healthier now or pay later for increased health care costs.”

Sabra explains that major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet.

“These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. Down to Earth believes this result is best achieved by adopting a healthy vegetarian diet consisting of organic produce and natural foods. In addition, we believe that a healthier diet is one without highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients."

"As we like to say at Down to Earth, "Love Life! Eat Healthy. Be Happy!"

Down to Earth began in 1977, almost 40 years ago, when a group of friends in Wailuku, Maui, turned their vision into a business dedicated to improving the health of island communities through organic and natural products and a vegetarian lifestyle. Down to Earth has five stores throughout Hawaii: Honolulu, Kailua, Pearlridge, and Kapolei on Oahu; and Kahului on Maui. In 2016, Down to Earth was voted Best Health Food Store ten years in a row. This honor was bestowed on the company by readers of the Star-Advertiser, Hawaii’s only statewide daily newspaper.

  1. American Heart Association, “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance” [2015]  (Accessed 9/14/16)
  2. The American Cancer Society, “Cancer Facts & Figures 2014.” (Accessed 9/16/2016)
  3. American Diabetes Association, "The Cost of Diabetes.” March 22, 2018
  4. United Health Foundation. Annual Report 2018 (Accessed 10/12/2019)
  5. National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Medicines in Development for Osteoporosis”.  (Accessed on 9/14/2016)  
  6. Your Retirement Healthcare Tab: $260,000”. Money, Aug. 16, 2016 (Accessed Sept. 15, 2016)