In a recent study published in Circulation, large, multisite produce prescription programs were associated with significant improvements in fruit and vegetable intake, food security, and health status for adults and children. At the conclusion of the food prescription program, participants experienced clinically relevant improvements in A1C, blood pressure, and body weight.
However, for this food-is-medicine strategy to work, it’s clear that the people will need long-term support.
The idea of food as medicine dates back to the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates, and this new study adds to the evidence that a diet full of fruits and vegetables can help improve heart health.
Researchers evaluated the impact of “produce prescriptions,” which provide free fruits and vegetables to people with diet-related diseases including diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The study included nearly 4,000 people in 12 states who struggle to afford healthy food. They received vouchers, averaging $63 a month, for up to 10 months, which could be redeemed for produce at retail stores or farmers markets, depending on the location.
Many people with diabetes struggle not only with food insecurity but also with nutrition insecurity. Improving nutrition security is about providing the right food to prevent or decrease the prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
By providing adults with hypertension with access to healthy fruits and vegetables using a prescription program, this study demonstrated a systolic blood pressure decrease of 8 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure decrease of about 5 mm Hg. In addition, among people with diabetes, A1C levels also declined significantly, by about 0.6 percent.
“Anything that lowers hemoglobin A1C and improves blood pressure control is beneficial,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, where the research was conducted. The challenge is to maintain these reductions.
The research clearly indicates that food prescription programs are an effective strategy to improve health outcomes, but long-term funding for these programs is difficult to secure.
More research is needed to establish which individuals and communities will most benefit from which food assistance programs. Options include medically tailored meals, produce prescriptions, and community-based programs. The ultimate goal is to get to a place where these programs cover long-term benefits for people who need them most.
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Wholesome Wave – partnering with community organizations to provide the right food to people at risk.
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