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Dr. Shireen Kassam claims that the NHS would save billions if more people embrace a plant-based diet. Kassam is the Founder of the Plant-Based Health Professionals network. She has bolstered her claim with global study findings.
One particular Taiwanese study, published in 2019, has been cited as proof that a switch to whole foods and meat-free eating will reduce the NHS burden. The study summarises that a switch to meat-free diets and lifestyles reduces the risk of many diseases. Such illnesses are considered burdensome to health services worldwide.
Authority to speak
Kassam is an NHS consultant haematologist and honorary senior lecturer at King’s College Hospital, London. As a contributing research advisory committee member for The Vegan Society, she looks to global research for evidence of the benefits of veganism. The Taiwanese study has proven to be a useful benchmark for approximating the potential benefits of widespread plant-based diet adoption in the U.K.
The study explicitly revealed that vegetarians have a lower rate of outpatient visits to doctors. This has been attributed to healthier diets that feature more fresh produce and whole grains. In fiscal terms, this equated to a 15 percent lower medical expenditure per person, than those who eat meat. High blood pressure, depression and heart disease were listed as chiefly expensive meat-eater conditions. The study concluded by stating that the lower medical costs associated with vegetarian diets ‘could be an effective strategy to alleviate the medical–economic burden in selected populations’.
Kassam has taken this model and applied it to the U.K. population. She claims that the figures translate to a £30 billion reduction in NHS costs if everyone in the country were to ditch meat. At present, the cost to treat obesity-related conditions is at least £6 billion per year. This is predicted to rise to £10 billion by 2050 if diet is not addressed. The U.K. has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe. Links between meat consumption and increased obesity risk have been proven.
Personal and climate health crises
Kassam intrinsically links climate damage and personal health. “The climate crisis really is a health crisis and we can’t detach the two,” she told Metro. “Moving towards a plant-based food system is clearly one of the biggest impacts we can have [on the environment], but I think people forget it’s a personal health issue too.”
Recommending a proactive approach to preventing diet-related illnesses, Kassam considers the government’s £100 million initiative to tackle obesity as lacking. Largely due to the lack of promotion of the benefits of a vegan diet.
“We know that a vegan or vegetarian diet reduces the incidence of heart disease by about 25 percent and type two diabetes by over 50 percent. Vegans have a 15 percent reduction in cancer incidence as well,” she told Metro. “You’re much more likely to have normal cholesterol on a vegan diet. Reducing incidence of chronic disease has the knock-on effect of usage of healthcare, going to the doctor and medications.”
Kassam’s claims come at a topical time. Veganuary is more than one-third complete for the year and has opened up a dialogue about veganism across multiple media platforms.
“Veganuary provides an amazing opportunity to reconsider our food choices and our connection to other animals and the planet as a whole,” Kassam exclusively told Green Queen. “Adopting a plant-based diet is a key part of addressing our global crises which include climate, health and ecological. Veganuary gives a great platform to bring these issues into the mainstream conversation.”
An influx of research
Continuous research is being conducted into the benefits of a plant-based diet. Studies reveal positive findings frequently.
Last year it was revealed that eating a plant-based diet leads to better urological health in men. It also reduces the risk of prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. Findings were unveiled at the American Urological Association’s virtual conference. The original studies were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Urology.
In October 2021, leading health experts made a plea for people to choose a plant-based diet. Professors David Wiebers, Valery Feigin, and Andrea Winkler came together to address the consequences of animal-based foods in the peer-reviewed journal Neuroepidemiology. The joint paper laid bare the effects of animal consumption that had been emphasised during the pandemic.
In a notable update to longstanding guidelines, the American Heart Association aligned with plant-based eating. It cited that a focus on unprocessed foods, including plant-based proteins and fresh produce is key to good health.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.