Produce prescription for fruits, vegetables improves heart health

Produce prescription for fruits, vegetables improves heart health

The Power of Produce Prescriptions: Improving Heart Health and Food Insecurity

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Researchers say people who increase their vegetable and fruit intake can improve their heart health. Dusan Atlagic/Getty Images

Imagine receiving a prescription from your doctor, not for medication, but for fresh fruits and vegetables. It may sound unusual, but according to a study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, produce prescriptions have proven to be beneficial for individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease. The research indicates that people who received produce prescriptions for six months experienced reductions in body mass index, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels, as well as an increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

Dr. Kurt Hager, an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School in Massachusetts and one of the authors of the study, highlights the impact of food insecurity on health. Food insecurity affects individuals not only through dietary quality but also through stress, anxiety, and tradeoffs between purchasing food and other basic needs like housing costs, utilities, and medications. The study’s results suggest that produce prescriptions can lay an important foundation for improved health and well-being.

The research examined data from 22 produce prescription programs across 12 states from 2014 to 2020, involving 3,881 participants. These participants, both adults and children, were at risk for or had poor cardiometabolic health and were from clinics serving low-income neighborhoods. As part of the program, participants received an average of $63 per month to purchase fruits and vegetables.

The benefits of produce prescriptions are numerous. Adults in the program were 60% more likely to increase their health status by one level, while children were twice as likely to report better health status. Additionally, adults increased their intake of vegetables and fruits by almost one cup per day. Participants with high blood pressure and diabetes experienced reductions in their respective levels. Furthermore, adults with obesity saw significant improvements in their body mass index. At the conclusion of the program, participants were one-third less likely to report experiencing food insecurity.

Dr. Eugene DePasquale, the medical director of the Heart Failure, Heart Transplantation, and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program with Keck Medicine of USC in California, believes that produce prescriptions can be a valuable tool to improve health outcomes. He emphasizes the importance of addressing suboptimal diets, which are associated with a high burden of deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The use of produce prescriptions not only increases fruit and vegetable intake but also improves health status, as evident in improved blood pressure, body mass index, and diabetes markers.

Understanding how food insecurity affects health is crucial. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to or affordability of foods that promote health and wellbeing. In the United States, an estimated 13.8 million households experienced food insecurity in 2020. The study found that more than half of the households participating in produce prescription programs reported experiencing food insecurity. Notably, research suggests that food insecurity is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Shannon Hoos-Thompson, an interventional cardiologist at The University of Kansas Health System, highlights the ongoing challenge of health disparities in cardiovascular disease. Despite being well-aware of these disparities, the medical field has struggled to address them effectively. However, studies like this one continue to provide valuable data that can guide a change in approach.

Promoting a healthy heart diet is essential for overall well-being. The American Heart Association advises individuals to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting their intake of added sugar, processed foods, and salt. Nuts, fish, and lean meats are recommended as healthy sources of protein. Poor diet is the leading cause of illness in the United States, contributing to over half a million deaths annually.

Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist and lipidologist at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute in California, highlights the benefits of produce prescriptions in breaking down barriers to purchasing and cooking fresh fruits and vegetables. For individuals not accustomed to working with these ingredients, there may be an initial intimidation factor. Moreover, the cost can be a limiting factor when trying to feed a family on a limited budget. However, with a produce prescription, individuals can incorporate healthy fruits and vegetables into their diet without worrying about the associated costs. It also provides an opportunity to learn how to use these ingredients effectively and become more adept at integrating them into daily meals.

In conclusion, produce prescriptions hold immense potential for improving heart health and addressing food insecurity. These prescriptions enable doctors to provide subsidized fresh fruits and vegetables to their patients, resulting in increased consumption and improvements in health outcomes. The impact can be seen in reduced body mass index, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels, along with a decrease in food insecurity. By addressing suboptimal diets and promoting healthier food choices, produce prescriptions have the power to revolutionize healthcare and reduce health disparities. Let’s embrace the potential of produce prescriptions and pave the way towards a healthier future.