The Cost of Poor Nutrition
In today’s fast-paced world, the convenience of processed food and the allure of unhealthy diets have led us down a precarious path. The cost of poor nutrition is staggering in terms of the financial burden and its toll on human health. The impact extends far beyond individual health concerns, affecting our economy and military readiness and contributing to the widening gap of health disparities among low-income populations.
The Economic and Health Burden
Poor nutrition and its resulting health conditions significantly drain the US economy. Diet-related diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, cost us an estimated $1.9 trillion annually, which astonishingly surpasses our national defense expenditure. These health conditions are not just numbers; they manifest as lost productivity, escalating healthcare costs, and diminished quality of life.
Our military readiness is compromised too. Between 2011 and 2015, rates of excess weight and obesity among active duty service members rose by 73%, demonstrating how diet-related health concerns can impact even the most physically demanding sectors of our society.
The Role of Food Culture
Our food culture plays a pivotal role in our health. Dietary habits, influenced by cultural, socio-economic, and marketing factors, are the primary contributors to leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat contribute to obesity, chronic inflammation, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Conversely, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI), indicating that food can effectively prevent, slow, or reverse the development of obesity and diet-related diseases.
The Disparity Gap
Unfortunately, poor nutrition and diet-related diseases disproportionately affect low-income populations. This is partly due to the high costs of healthy foods, making them less accessible to those on limited incomes. Despite the extensive resources focused on Healthy Eating, Active Living strategies, we are failing to change the dynamics of food culture or halt the rise of obesity and diet-related diseases among these vulnerable communities.
The Potential of ESG Ratings
We need a robust policy and regulatory environment that facilitates healthy food culture and market incentives that reward steps towards health and wellness. One promising approach to driving this change is incorporating health metrics into the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investment model.
ESG investing, which rates companies based on their environmental, social, and governance practices, has driven positive business changes. By including food/health metrics in ESG ratings, we can provide investors with a standardized and consistent approach to measuring the impact of companies on the food culture and health of consumers. This inclusion will help investors identify and prioritize companies that are making positive contributions to food systems and health.
Towards a Healthier Future
The cost of poor nutrition is too high to ignore. By incentivizing companies to promote healthier food choices, we can create a virtuous cycle where businesses benefit from better ESG ratings and consumers benefit from improved food culture and health. This approach will democratize food culture and health improvements, ensuring that all income levels benefit from these improvements.