That’s a question that has challenged the industry, so the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) set out to answer it — with some amazing results. We know that in 2015 dietary supplement retail sales in the U.S. were somewhere north of $39 billion. Supplements are sold through a whole host of retail channels from chain drug stores, grocery and club stores to health clubs, catalogs and online, even direct sellers and through health care practitioner offices. In fact, 68% of American adults take at least one dietary supplement, and many of them use four or more.
That only tells part of the story, because the impact of the supplement industry on the U.S. economy goes a lot further than that.
In a newly commissioned CRN study conducted by John Dunham and Associates we looked at jobs, taxes and indirect effects from this vibrant marketplace. We learned that the supplement industry helps support over 750,000 jobs nationwide, over manufacturing, wholesale, retail and related services, including everything from advertising, regulatory compliance jobs, farming and fisheries, package and equipment manufacturing to manufacturing jobs for the products themselves at nearly 1,000 manufacturing facilities with good pay across the U.S.
Those jobs are responsible for more than $38 billion dollars in wages — U.S. jobs for U.S. workers. When everything is considered, the dietary supplement industry contributes $121.6 billion to the U.S. economy.
Then there is the contribution to government through state and federal business taxes, employment taxes on wages and property taxes. The industry contributes nearly $15 billion dollars annually — not including sales taxes collected in some states on product sales. In California alone, supplements directly create 50,153 jobs and $1.22 billion in state taxes and $1.86 billion in federal taxes.
When regulators and legislators wrongly look to stifle industry growth by insinuating that dietary supplements are not regulated, they should consider the contributions this industry makes to support infrastructure. CRN is making these new statistics on both the federal and state levels available on a new microsite at crnusa.org/economicimpact.
But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Another valuable question is how much the targeted use of dietary supplements can save the health care system by preventing the risk of medical events related to chronic diseases. CRN pondered these questions as well: Would increased use of calcium and vitamin D save the health care system money by reducing emergency room visits from falls and fractures related to osteoporosis? Could omega-3s, fiber supplements and phytosterols reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cut the costs of hospital visits from heart-related events?
Again, the answer might surprise you. We asked the prestigious economic firm Frost & Sullivan to investigate these concepts for eight popular supplement regimens. Their outcomes demonstrate a tremendous savings.
For example, for women over 55 with osteoporosis, use of calcium and vitamin D reduces this risk of osteoporosis-related falls or fractures by 18.6%. Fully realizing that reduction in medical costs translates into $1.5 billion in savings a year, or over $12 billion between 2013 and 2020 — with a daily cost of only 16 cents to supplement. We found similar savings with all eight regimens studied, with phytosterols topping the list by saving over $3.3 billion annually in avoided medical events from cardiovascular disease. The full report is available at supplementforsmartprevention.com.
Is it any wonder that consumers are increasingly looking to include dietary supplements in their health regimens? CRN’s consumer research shows consumers are incorporating supplements into healthy lifestyles. Supplement users are more likely to pursue a balanced diet, visit their doctors and exercise regularly than nonusers, and they are less likely to smoke.
As Americans look to be more proactive in prevention, and turn to their neighborhood drug stores for advice on how to pursue a healthy lifestyle, dietary supplements can play a part. Sixty-nine percent of supplement users say they have talked to their doctors about the supplements they take, and pharmacists can be a valuable resource to help them understand the value of these products and how they fit into their health habits, as well as how they can interact with their prescription medicines — both positively by restoring nutrients their medicine may deplete, and with potential negative interactions a pharmacist can help prevent.
So next time you navigate the supplement aisle, pause and consider how they contribute to the bottom line: from retail sales to job creation to tax base to health care savings, dietary supplements create better health and a healthy economy.
Steve Mister is president and chief executive officer of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.