Prescribing Healthy Foods Would Save Lives (and Money), New Study Shows

'Take two apples and call me in the morning.'
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Prescribing Healthy Foods Would Save Lives (and Money), New Study Shows

Offsetting the costs of healthy foods by 30 percent through health insurance would reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs significantly, according to new research from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine and forms part of the Food Policy Review and Intervention Cost-Effectiveness (Food-PRICE) research initiative, reinforces the idea of food as powerful preventative medicine.

Researchers reached their conclusions by modeling two different scenarios using a validated micro-simulation model called CVD Predict. They explored the possible repercussions of health insurance covering 30 percent of two types of healthy food: either fruit and vegetable purchases only or produce combined with other foods like whole grains, nuts, seafood, and plant oils. The researchers found that the first scenario would prevent nearly 1 million cases of heart disease and save about $40 billion in healthcare costs; the second would prevent close to 3.28 million cases of heart disease, 120,000 cases of diabetes, and 620,000 deaths and save about $100 billion.

The total costs for subsidizing just fruits and vegetables were $122.6 billion, while the second scenario would cost $210.4 billion.

"We found that encouraging people to eat healthy foods in Medicare and Medicaid — healthy food prescriptions — could be as or more cost-effective as other common interventions, such as preventative drug treatments for hypertension or high cholesterol," Yujin Lee, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School and co-first author of the study, says in a press release.

Studies have shown that a plant-based diet is a healthier choice for people with diabetes and that consuming red meat contributes to a higher risk of developing the condition. Research presented at the 2015 American Heart Association conference found that home-cooked meals are one of the best preventative measures to take in preventing diabetes.

The 2018 Farm Bill included $25 million in funding for pilot programs allowing doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables to their patients.

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