Date of this Version
August 7, 2014
In the article "Putting Your Car Where Your Mouth Is: Diets and Carbon Emissions," published in the April 23, 2014 issue of Cornhusker Economics, we compared the environmental damages in terms of CO2 emissions associated with the U.S. diet relative to the Japanese, Mediterranean (represented by Greece), French, and Nordic (represented by Finland) diets. In this article, we compare the health care cost associated with the U.S. diet and the same four alternative diets. The theme of both articles is sustainable consumption, and specifically sustainable diets.
As a first step to finding the relationship between diet and health care cost, we estimate the relationship between the respective countries’ diets and body mass index (BMI) using data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. BMI is a metric often used to classify weight and indicates the health status of a population. Figure 1 shows the average BMI for each of the 5 countries and the percentage of the population that is either overweight or obese. The United States has the high-est average BMI (28.5), with 69.4 percent of the adult population overweight or obese, also the highest. Of this 69.4 percent, 32.9 percent are classified as overweight and 36.5 percent are classified as obese (OECD, 2013).