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GAO: Coordinated Federal Effort On Diets Could Save Lives, Money

A coordinated federal effort on diets could save lives and money, the Government Accountability Office asserted in a report today.

“The federal government leads 200 different efforts, spread across 21 agencies, to improve Americans’ diets. But agency efforts are fragmented and there are gaps in key scientific research, including for children…. A strategy for working together could help,” GAO said in a study for Congress.

GAO called on Congress to identify and direct a federal entity to lead development and implementation of a federal strategy for diet-related efforts aimed at reducing Americans’ risk of chronic health conditions.

“A federal strategy for diet-related efforts could provide sustained leadership and result in improved, cost-effective outcomes for reducing Americans’ risk of diet related chronic health conditions, the study said.

Further explaining the need, the agency pointed out chronic health conditions (like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity) are costly and deadly—caused over half of U.S. deaths in 2018 which in some cases could have been saved with improved diet.

But the conditions are largely preventable with a healthy diet and other behaviors like exercise, GAO contended.

GAO warned a 46 percent rise in severe obesity in approximately a decade could be a bellwether for increases in other chronic health conditions and resulting deaths.

Speaking to diet, the report said healthy eating, prevents or delays the onset of chronic health conditions.

Spending to treat three diet-related chronic health conditions—cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes—-approached close to $400 billion in 2018 with $207.8 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs and $26 billion out of pocket, the report said.

In addition to direct health care costs, chronic health conditions burden the economy the economy with job absenteeism and reduced productivity, the authors contended.

Pointing to a connection between the pandemic and diet, the Centers for Disease Control has found that those with COVID-19 who reported underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, were 6 times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die, compared with those who didn’t have the severe health problems.

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