Increase Dietary Fibre – Reduce Health Care Costs

Fibre is a vital part of the diet. When consumed daily, it helps keep your digestive system moving regularly by adding bulk to stool and stimulating peristalsis, which helps reduce constipation. Certain types of fibre can also absorb excess water in the large intestine to reduce diarrhea. Fibre is an important prebiotic, which is food for the beneficial bacteria that live in the large intestine.

The recommended intakes for fibre are a minimum of 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men. The problem is, most people aren’t consuming anywhere near that amount. On average, women only consume 15.6g a day, and men only 19.1g. Gastrointestinal symptoms are common for those who maintain a low intake of fibre. Particularly, not eating enough fibre can cause constipation in otherwise healthy individuals.

One in four Canadians experience constipation, many of whom could eliminate symptoms by modifying dietary habits to include more fibre. This high prevalence puts a large financial burden on our health care system, with approximately one million annual physician visits to treat constipation, at a total cost per year of nearly $7,500 per patient who is constipated.

A recent study1 found that by simply increasing our fibre intake, we can significantly reduce the prevalence of constipation, and its accompanying risks (hemorrhoids and diverticular disease), thereby saving the Canadian health care system millions of dollars annually. The researchers found that for each gram per day increase in the average person’s fibre intake, there was a 1.8% reduction in constipation rates. While this might not seem like much, the researchers estimate that if just 5% of the population increased their fibre intake by one gram per day, we would save the Canadian health care system $100,000 annually, and if 100% of Canadians increased their fibre intake by one gram per day, we would save $2.5 million per year.

How much money could we save the health care system just by consuming the recommended daily intake of fibre? If 5% of the population ate the amount of fibre that they should, it would save the health care system $1.5 million per year, and if everyone simply ate the recommended amount of fibre, the researchers suggest that we could save $31.9 million per year.

These savings seem quite straight-forward. We know that fibre treats occasional constipation and we know that constipation can be costly, so it’s clear that if people consume enough fibre we could prevent many cases. However, the benefits of fibre reach far beyond; it can play a role in the management and prevention of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, by balancing blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol.2

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 7% of Canadians,3 and cardiovascular disease affects approximately 5% of the population.4 While fibre is only one aspect of many that can help prevent and/or treat these diseases, the impact on our health care system could be potentially very large just from the fibre benefits in these disease area. If 5% of Canadians ate enough fibre, we could save $35.9 million in type 2 diabetes health care costs annually and $64.8 million in cardiovascular disease costs. If all Canadians were to eat enough fibre, we might be able to preserve $718.8 million in type 2 diabetes costs and a massive $1.3 billion in cardiovascular costs each year, which could be used for other conditions that need more resources.

It’s such a simple thing! Just eating enough fibre can help make our digestive system run more smoothly and prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular health, which can help save our health and our budget.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 199 – 2016
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1. Abdullah MMH et al. Dietary fibre intakes and reduction in functional constipation rates among Canadian adults: a cost-of-illness analysis. Food & Nutrition Research. 2015:59
2. Abdullah MMH et al.  Cost-of-illness analysis reveals potential health care savings with reductions in type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease following recommended intakes of dietary fiber in Canada. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2015:6(167)
3. Diabetes in Canada: Facts and figures from a public health perspective. Public Health Agency of Canada. Available at: Accessed 2016-07-29.
4. Tracking Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada (2009). Public Health Agency of Canada. Available at: Accessed 2016-07-29.