It doesn’t take a rocket nutrition scientist to work out what is in it for the company to drive dietary change.
Nor is it difficult to identify the main driver: Swiss Re’s global chief medical officer, South African Dr John Schoonbee. The reason for the reinsurer’s interest in nutrition is simple, Schoonbee said: “If more people die, we pay out more. If fewer people die, we pay out less. So, we want to keep people living longer, healthier lives.”
Noncommunicable diseases now account for six of the top seven causes of death globally, he said. Obesity, prediabetes and diabetes are growing global epidemics strongly associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet is the key factor in obesity and diabetes. Fixing nutrition won’t just slow down these epidemics but can reverse these conditions, he said.
As a large global reinsurer in life and health, Swiss Re’s exposure to long-term mortality and morbidity is “significant”, Schoonbee said. Improving these will lead to “very significant financial benefit” and an advantage allowing it to win new business.
The company’s vested financial interest “entirely aligns with [its vision of] making the world a healthier, more resilient place”, he said. Thus, its research arm, the Swiss Re Institute, engages with stakeholders by “sharing insights, tailored services and products to enable risk-focused decision making and smarter solutions to manage risk”.
To that end, at the institute’s conference delegates included nutrition scientists, endocrinologists, cardiologists, epidemiologists, psychiatrists and a South African, UK-based plastic surgeon. Among top research institutions represented were Harvard and Tufts universities in the US, Cambridge University in the UK and Sydney University in Australia.
The first two days debated Food for Thought, Science and Politics of Nutrition, a collaboration between the institute and The BMJ (formerly The British Medical Journal) to launch a series of articles under the same name. These were researched and written by nutrition experts and advised by Cambridge University and Tufts University.
BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee opened by saying: “There is no miracle diet but there is a miracle meeting and this is it.”
The meeting was not miraculous but it brought together experts with divergent views on optimum nutrition to treat and prevent obesity and diabetes on the same stage.
Some vigorously promoted plant-based diets as optimum to treat and reverse diabesity. Among them was Prof Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.