How a Healthy Diet Can Hurt the Economy

Maria Cheng, AP Medical Writer

LONDON (AP) — Eating a healthy diet may be good for you, but it may be unintentionally slimming for the economies of some developing countries, a new study says.

British researchers modeled what could happen if people in Britain and Brazil adopted healthier diets as defined by the World Health Organization, including more fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy products.

In Britain, experts estimated that fixing the country's bad eating habits might prevent nearly 70,000 people from prematurely dying of diet-related health problems like heart disease and cancer. It would also theoretically save the health system 20 billion pounds ($32 billion) every year.

In Brazil, however, the rates of illnesses linked to a poor diet are not as high as in the U.K. So Brazilians would get relatively few health benefits while their economy might lose millions.

The study was paid for by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was published online Thursday in the medical journal, Lancet.

"We are not suggesting people not eat a healthy diet," said Richard Smith, a professor of health system economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "We're just trying to point out that healthier eating can have unintended consequences."

Smith and colleagues said decisions in Brazil and in Western countries to adopt more vegetarian diets could cost the meat-dependent Brazilian economy 1,388 million reais ($815 million).

"In an ideal world, we would all have a perfect diet," Smith said. "But it's also desirable that everybody has a job."
Smith said officials should consider nutritional guidelines more carefully. For countries like Brazil, which rely heavily on meat imports to the West and to Japan, global nutritional advice could potentially be devastating.
Others weren't so sure.

"There are things happening in the rest of the world that this model didn't account for," said Julian Morris, executive director of International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. "The increasing demand for meat in Asia is substantial, ongoing, and might counteract any reduced demand in developed countries."

Back to Top