Nearly five percent of Americans suffer from functional constipation, many of whom may benefit from increasing dietary fiber consumption. The annual constipation-related healthcare cost savings associated with increasing intakes may be considerable but have not been examined previously. The objective of the present study was to estimate the economic impact of increased dietary fiber consumption on direct medical costs associated with constipation.
Literature searches were conducted to identify nationally representative input parameters for the U.S. population, which included prevalence of functional constipation; current dietary fiber intakes; proportion of the population meeting recommended intakes; and the percentage that would be expected to respond, in terms of alleviation of constipation, to a change in dietary fiber consumption. A dose-response analysis of published data was conducted to estimate the percent reduction in constipation prevalence per 1 g/day increase in dietary fiber intake. Annual direct medical costs for constipation were derived from the literature and updated to U.S. $ 2012. Sensitivity analyses explored the impact on adult vs. pediatric populations and the robustness of the model to each input parameter.
The base case direct medical cost-savings was $12.7 billion annually among adults. The base case assumed that 3% of men and 6% of women currently met recommended dietary fiber intakes; each 1 g/day increase in dietary fiber intake would lead to a reduction of 1.9% in constipation prevalence; and all adults would increase their dietary fiber intake to recommended levels (mean increase of 9 g/day). Sensitivity analyses, which explored numerous alternatives, found that even if only 50% of the adult population increased dietary fiber intake by 3 g/day, annual medical costs savings exceeded $2 billion. All plausible scenarios resulted in cost savings of at least $1 billion.
Increasing dietary fiber consumption is associated with considerable cost savings, potentially exceeding $12 billion, which is a conservative estimate given the exclusion of lost productivity costs in the model. The finding that $12.7 billion in direct medical costs of constipation could be averted through simple, realistic changes in dietary practices is promising and highlights the need for strategies to increase dietary fiber intakes.
Schmier JK, Miller PE, Levine JA, Perez V1, Maki KC, Rains TM, Devareddy L, Sanders LM, Alexander DD. Cost savings of reduced constipation rates attributed to increased dietary fiber intakes: a decision-analytic model. BMC Public Health. 2014 Apr 17;14:374. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-374.