According to researchers at the American Heart Association, lowering prices of fruits and vegetables can save a lot of life, 200,000 to be precise. They believe that it will take 15 years to save these many lives if the prices are lowered by 30%.
Including more fruits and vegetables in everyday food can help improve heart health. Researchers have developed computer models that indicate that deaths due to heart disease and stroke can easily be lowered with increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Based on these findings, researchers have suggested that instead of spending money on traditional campaigns to encourage eating more fruits and vegetables, it should be spent on lowering the prices. It would have a far better impact on diet on the large scale.
The computer model, known as U.S. IMPACT Food Policy Model, was created by researchers from the U.K. They incorporated data from current and projected intake of fruit and vegetables with projections of deaths in the U.S due to heart-related problems. This computer model helped scientists see the impact of different food policies on the general population and their eating habits.
It’s the ability to model outcomes that’s new here, says American Heart Association president Dr. Mark Creager, a cardiovascular disease expert.
“They’re doing the modeling that will demonstrate how pricing affects health. The best example is what’s happened to tobacco. The increase in the cost of the price of cigarettes” deterred some smokers from lighting up, which meant fewer people exposed to the health risks associated with that habit, he says.
“Another example is the price of food like sugar-sweetened beverages,” Creager says. Mexico’s soda tax has pushed consumption rates down. “It’s too early to see outcomes yet, but we can anticipate as they consume less sugar, it will have downstream effects for weight reduction.” And therefore, better health.
So far, no national studies have been done looking at how financial incentives drive healthy eating, the researchers say. But a smaller study conducted in Massachusetts between 2011-2012 mirrored the findings of the modeling done at Tufts and Imperial College.
About 50 percent of the vegetables available today are tomatoes and potatoes, according to new USDA data. Lettuce is the third most available single vegetable. Legumes and all other vegetables make up 41 percent of what’s available.
That previous study — the Healthy Incentives Pilot — tested financial incentives for SNAP recipients that were designed to encourage more consumption of fruits and vegetables. Under the program, some SNAP participants received an extra 30 cents for every dollar of SNAP benefits — but could spend the extra money only on targeted fruits and vegetables.
“We did indeed find the incentive worked: Participants purchased more and consumed more fruits and vegetables than SNAP participants that were not receiving the incentive,” says Susan Bartlett, principal associate at Abt Associates, a public policy consulting firm that worked on the study.
The findings presented this week don’t identify which specific policies should be tweaked to bring the price of produce down. But Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist, epidemiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, has some suggestions.
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