The common American diet often lacks the necessary nutrition for optimal health. Only roughly 10% of American adults consume the suggested daily servings of fruit (1-1/2 to 2 cups) and vegetables (2 to 3 cups). This dietary gap is more evident in economically disadvantaged demographics. As a result, over 300,000 annual deaths from conditions like heart disease and diabetes in the U.S. are attributed to poor dietary habits.
“Produce prescriptions” empower health professionals to offer coupons for complimentary or reduced-cost fruits and vegetables at supermarkets or local markets for those in low-income areas. A recent research study explored if these initiatives could boost fruit and vegetable intake among those predisposed to heart conditions, and perhaps mitigate issues like hypertension. Dr. Anne Thorndike, a researcher at Harvard Medical School who delves into heart-related disease prevention and food accessibility, offers a cautious perspective on the study, yet emphasizes that there’s valuable insight to be garnered.
This investigation synthesized data from nine separate produce prescription initiatives across 22 sites in 12 states. Nearly 2,000 adults and 1,800 children from financially disadvantaged areas participated. They were provided with vouchers or cards to purchase produce, varying from $15 to $300 monthly based on household size, and took part in nutrition-focused sessions.
These interventions spanned from four to ten months. Both before and after each program, participants responded to surveys about their diet and health. The surveys further inquired about food shortages, defined as insufficient access to necessary sustenance. For a subset of participants, metrics like blood pressure, glucose levels, height, and weight were documented.
Throughout the prescription phase, adults incorporated almost one more daily cup of fruits and vegetables, while children added an extra quarter-cup. For adults, this correlated with reduced blood pressure in hypertensive individuals and decreased blood sugar in diabetic ones. There were also noted reductions in BMI for obese adults.
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