Are Dietary Supplements Worth the Cost?

The motivations for dietary supplement use varied considerably, but they were generally associated with overall health and a desire to supplement nutrient intake. Interestingly, less than half of adults who take supplements are prescribed by a physician. Among these, a third said they use supplements to improve their diet and lifestyle, while 22% said they use them to improve their overall health. Moreover, the reasons for using dietary supplements were largely related to promoting healthier lifestyles and overall health.

Health Benefits

The use of dietary supplements by adults for health benefits shows a significant inverse relationship with age. Adults use supplements more for overall health, improving immunity, preventing colds, and getting more energy. However, less than half of those surveyed reported that they were prescribed dietary supplements by a physician. For more information about the health benefits of dietary supplements, see the National Institutes of Health fact sheet. Its also important to know that these studies do not represent medical advice.

Though the FDA doesnt regulate dietary supplements the same way as it regulates drugs, it does monitor supplement quality and safety. If you have a reaction or develop a disease while taking a dietary supplement, talk to your doctor right away. Your physician may suggest that you submit a safety report to the FDA. To stay informed about the latest developments in the supplement industry, sign up for the ODSs free newsletter.

Cost Savings

Studies have shown that specific dietary supplements can lower costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, they do not address whether or not these supplements can prevent health problems. In fact, researchers have not determined the exact cost savings that can be attributed to dietary supplements. They have only studied the potential savings in a small target population of U.S. adults aged 55 and older. To answer this question, lets look at some examples.

Health care costs are rising as the population grows. Preventable diseases account for 75 percent of all health care costs, while only 3 percent of these costs are spent on disease prevention programs. While the value of disease prevention programs is still debated, many studies have shown that dietary supplements can reduce the risk of costly disease events and prevent hospitalization costs. In fact, certain dietary supplements have even been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.

Demographic Characteristics

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an examination and interview program conducted among a nationally representative sample of the US population, was used to examine the prevalence of dietary supplement use. Dietary supplement use was examined in terms of prevalence among various sociodemographic groups and pregnant women. In the study, participants self-reported their supplement use, using survey-derived sample weights to account for differences in the distribution of use among the various demographic groups. Data were analyzed using SAS software.

According to the survey, vitamin and mineral supplement use are increasing in the United States. Nearly half of the US adult population and more than 30% of children and adolescents use vitamin/mineral supplements. However, supplement use varies by age, gender, and physical activity level. In this study, children and adolescents use more than adults do. The prevalence of vitamin/mineral supplement use differs by gender and age, with adolescents using the highest proportions of supplements.

Association with Healthy Habits

A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found a strong relationship between dietary supplements and health behaviors, including moderate alcohol consumption and regular exercise. However, the studys findings have not yet been replicated in other research. In fact, the two groups differed in the extent of their healthy habits and their effectiveness. The studys results are currently awaiting publication, but the research team hopes to confirm these findings.

Among the participants, 71 percent used dietary supplements, whereas only 30 percent were not using them. Supplement use was more common among older adults, women, and those with higher educational levels. Those who had additional points on the health index and a lower risk for metabolic diseases were less likely to use any dietary supplement. Moreover, participants who smoked were less likely to use dietary supplements compared to non-smokers.

Health Care Costs

Recent studies have shown that targeted use of dietary supplements can result in significant cost savings. A Frost & Sullivan study commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Foundation examined the cost savings associated with four chronic conditions. Dietary supplements are particularly effective in reducing the risk of disease-associated medical events, such as hospitalization, and can help reduce these costs. These findings should inspire more health care providers to consider the use of dietary supplements in their treatment plans.

The results of the study revealed that SNAP participation is associated with lower health care expenditures and Medicaid/Medicare costs. According to the analysis, low-income adults with SNAP participation incur an average of $1,400 less in medical costs every year compared to those who do not participate in the program. The differences are even greater for individuals with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes.

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