If everyone in England switched to a plant-based diet, the NHS could save around £6.7 billion a year, according to new analysis from the Office of Health Economics.
Fully plant-based diets could result in 2.1 million fewer cases of disease across England, the study found. Furthermore, it could result in a gain of more than 170,000 quality-adjusted life years.
Author Dr Chris Sampson said in a statement: ”There is now compelling evidence that plant-based diets can benefit people’s health. Our analysis takes a significant step towards understanding how dietary choices impact population health and NHS expenditure overall.”
Huge saving for the NHS with plant-based diets
The study combined estimates for the prevalence of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Research shows that these would be greatly reduced with a full uptake of plant-based diets.
Meat consumption has already fallen to its lowest levels on record in the UK. Plant-based diets usually contain healthy whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Meanwhile, they exclude the saturated fat and cholesterol found in meat, milk, and eggs.
Funding for seven hospitals
The analysis, funded by The Vegan Society, puts a figure to the economic benefits of plant-based diets.
The £6.7 billion saved by everyone going plant-based could cover the full yearly budget of up to seven of England’s hospitals, the study said. Alternatively, it could pay the annual salaries of 64,990 consultants or 184,920 nurses.
Even a partial uptick in veganism would see sizeable benefits. For every one million people who become vegan, the study found, the NHS would benefit from an estimated £121 million saving in healthcare costs.
The huge savings laid out in the report show how policymakers could frame any intervention in encouraging healthy dietary changes.
Claire Ogley, Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research for the Vegan Society, commented: “As the report illustrates, wider uptake of plant-based diets could free up billions of pounds of funding to invest back into England’s hospitals and services. Policymakers should consider supporting and encouraging plant-based diets as part of public health campaigns to realize these benefits to the health service in the UK.”
The report comes at a time when governments, councils, and universities are starting to recognize the benefits of plant-based policies.
In 2023, Oxford City Council voted to serve only plant-based food at all internal events. Meanwhile, successful student votes at universities including Stirling and Kent have led to only plant-based meals being served on campus.
On the national level, Denmark became the first country to create a roadmap to transition towards a more plant-based food system. The country cited environmental and health reasons as guiding the policy.
The German government also announced “groundbreaking” investment in plant-based food as part of its recent Food and Nutrition Strategy.