This important study attempts to quantify the real economic burden of food-related disease in the UK. Dramatically, it reveals that, probably even conservatively, that food-related illness creates an economic burden on the health service over three times greater than that caused by smoking. The authors of the report suggest that the importance of food-related illness have been neglected by policy-makers.

Click here for the full paper. The abstract and conclusions of the paper are given below.

One wonders how long it will take policy-makers to appreciate that a much more proactive approach to dealing with this issue is required. And when will they appreciate that appropriate use of supplementation is one of the best ways of guaranteeing optimum levels of nutrients that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two greatest disease burdens in western countries?



Study objective: To quantify the burden of ill health in the UK that can be attributed to food (the burden of food related ill health).

Design: Review and further analysis of the results of work concerned with estimates of the burden of disease measured as morbidity, mortality, and in financial terms and with the proportion of that burden that can be attributed to food.

Main results: Food related ill health is responsible for about 10% of morbidity and mortality in the UK and costs the NHS about £6 billion annually.

Conclusions: The burden of food related ill health measured in terms of mortality and morbidity is similar to that attributable to smoking. The cost to the NHS is twice the amount attributable to car, train, and other accidents, and more than twice that attributable to smoking. The vast majority of the burden is attributable to unhealthy diets rather than to food borne diseases.


That food related ill health is responsible for about 10% of DALYs (disability adjusted life years) lost in the UK and costs the NHS about £6 billion annually are obviously crude estimates. Nevertheless they are probably reasonable.

The estimates suggest that the burden of food related ill health is large, compared with say smoking, and suggest that food related ill health has been neglected by health and food policy makers. For example while there are specific government targets for smoking in England there are no equivalent dietary targets, the National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease has a specific standard for smoking cessation but no equivalent standard for dietary improvement.

The estimates could be improved by more sophisticated and systematic methods—for example by calculating appropriate PAFs (population attributable fractions) and applying them to the burden of specific diseases rather than ICD (International Classification of Disease) chapters. The estimates should be refined, as without quantifying the burden of food related ill health we cannot say whether it is a problem worth worrying about or not.

Source: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health