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Observations Science and Politics of Nutrition

Why would a leading global reinsurer be interested in nutrition?

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 13 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2435

Food for thought

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  1. John Schoonbee, global chief medical officer, Swiss Re,
  2. Emile Elefteriadis, head of life and health products Canada, Swiss Re
  1. Correspondence to: J Schoonbee John_Schoonbee{at}

The benefits of better diets extend beyond health

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” More than 2000 years ago Hippocrates already recognised the link between nutrition and health. Today this link has an ever growing effect on our global society and, in particular, on insurers, who provide a financial safety net for people around the world. In the US, the world’s largest life insurance market, insurers provide nearly $2tn in coverage for individual life policies.1

When determining long term mortality risk to provide this cover, actuaries have for decades factored in a price reduction based on the assumption that life expectancy will continue to increase. This is termed a “mortality improvement” assumption and can be locked in for many years when there are long term guarantees. If actual mortality improvements or the trend of living longer should slow down or reverse, it would have a substantial effect on the life insurance industry. Consumers too, would feel the pain, having to pay more for new life insurance than they do today.

In the UK, mortality …

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