How ‘prescribing’ fruits and vegetables can lead to better health

When doctors and healthcare providers “prescribed” fruits and vegetables, patients ate more of the produce, lost weight, and experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, according to a recent study. New study.

Prescription is part of a growing health care effort to provide food as a medicine to prevent or improve chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

In what is believed to be the largest study of these programs, the researchers studied 3,881 people from low-income neighborhoods who received food stamps through Nine programs in twelve states, from California to Florida. Participants received vouchers or cards of value $15 to $300 a month to buy more fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

The research focused on the amount of produce eaten by adults and children before and after receiving a “prescription” of fruit and vegetables, as well as measures of cardiovascular health, levels of food insecurity and self-reported health status.

They found that adults who participated in the programs ended up eating about 30 percent more produce per day, according to the research published Tuesday in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

At the end of the programs, the adults reported eating an average of 0.85 extra cups of fruits and vegetables each day. Children in the study ate 0.26 cups more — or about 7 percent more — than they did before the programs.

Most Americans no Eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Agriculture estimates A person would need to spend $63 to $78 per month to eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. A poor diet can lead to poor health over time.

“We have an ongoing epidemic of diet-related diseases,” he said. Kurt HagerChan, an instructor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and lead author of the study. “Historically, doctors have had very few tools to improve their patients’ nutrition besides limited access to nutrition counseling.”

Hager said that based on the before-and-after comparison of participants, the magnitude of the effect of more fruits and vegetables on blood pressure was “about half the effect of commonly prescribed medications, which is notable for a small change in diet.”

The adults and children participating in the programs either had or were at risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes, and they were enrolled either because they were dealing with food insecurity — not having access to enough nutritious food — or because they were recruited from a health center Serves a lower income neighborhood. None of these programs has been previously studied or evaluated. Each program lasted an average of six months and was implemented between 2014 and 2020.

Prescription programs have expanded in the past decade and especially in the past two or three years since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Existing studies on medicinal product programs have shown that product vouchers will prompt people to eat more fruits and vegetables, Hager said, but it was not clear whether eating more apples and carrots was associated with better health outcomes, such as lower blood pressure.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the high rates of diet-related diseases in the United States,” Hager said. “Heart disease and diabetes have become major risk factors for hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.”

Hager said more research is still needed to determine whether fruits and vegetables actually improved the health of the participants. The study, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, has some limitations. It did not include a control group and was not a randomized controlled trial, which means that other factors could have affected the results. Because it was a retrospective review of the results of these programs, it is not clear whether the reported improvements in certain markers may be due to other causes.

It is also not known whether people were healthier because they were eating more fruits and vegetables, or whether associated improvements in heart health and metabolism occurred because money to buy fruits and vegetables addressed greater household food insecurity. About 56% of the households surveyed were food insecure.

“These programs may work by removing the stress and anxiety of not knowing where your next meal will come from,” Hager said. By the end of the programmes, the odds that a household would remain food insecure had decreased by one third.

Kevin JM VolpDirector of the Health Incentives Center W The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Behavioral Economics said studies like Hager’s cannot serve as evidence that these programs lead to improvements in blood pressure or blood sugar levels. “We really need randomized trials to answer this question more systematically,” Volpe said.

Eating a wide-ranging diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is likely to improve your health. However, Volpe said, “We can’t really estimate the amount of produce a person should eat per day without more accurate data.”

Mitchell SV ElkindThe American Heart Association’s chief clinical science officer and professor of neuroscience and epidemiology at Columbia University called the study “a fascinating analysis” that suggests there are benefits to prescription production programs. But he said researchers need to do a randomized trial, “just as you would a drug”.

The journal Circulation is published by the American Heart Association.

The Rockefeller Foundation has funded a larger “seven-to-ten-year” initiative by the American Heart Association to conduct more research to determine whether “prescribing” is a cost-effective way to manage and reduce the risk of these chronic conditions. Elkind said.

“If we don’t find out, our health care costs will continue to skyrocket, and we will continue to experience some of the worst heart attack, death rates, and obesity rates in the world,” Elkind said. “We have to be better at this.”

Do you have a question about healthy eating? e-mail We may answer your question in a future column.

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