WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Research presented earlier this year at the American Heart Association (AHA) meeting in Phoenix, AZ show promising results in America’s effort to tackle cardiovascular disease. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, explored the impact of public policy that would lower the prices on fruits and vegetables and demonstrated how effective policy can be used as a powerful tool for reducing widespread diseases.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Policies that encourage healthy habits can have major impacts on disease development and healthcare costs for the United States. People’s habits are affected by economics, as the price of goods, services and products determines whether or not an individual has access to those items. In our everyday lives we make many decisions based on economics, including where we buy groceries and the types of groceries we purchase. Many feel that the cost of fruit and vegetables is high, and may choose to buy less healthy items as a result.
Food prices affect dietary habits. Crafting policies that lower the prices of fruits and vegetables may have a powerful positive impact on people’s dietary habits, which could help individuals and their families make healthier dietary decisions. Researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the University of Liverpool have created a model that allowed the team to project the impact of various policies on dietary habits and the impact that changed dietary habits would have risk of heart disease and stroke. The model, called the U.S. IMPACT Food Policy Model, includes projections of U.S. demographics and cardiovascular death rates to 2030, plus current and projected fruit and vegetable intake. After assessing the effects of positive policy change, the researchers then compared those findings to what we can expect if nothing changes. They did so by comparing how many people would be expected to die over 15 years if nothing changed, compared to the anticipated deaths if the policy were to favor healthier dietary patterns. The results were staggering.
WHY THIS MATTERS
If sweeping change were to take place, more lives would be saved. For example, a 30% price drop for fruits and vegetables showed that the death rate could be lowered by almost 3%, saving between 191,000 and 205,000 lives over 15 years. Even a much more conservative change, such as a 10% price drop in fruits and vegetables, could lower the death rate from heart disease and stroke about 1%, saving about 64,000 to 69,000 lives over a 15-year period.
Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, lead researcher and academic clinical fellow and public health registrar at Imperial College London, said “poor diet is a large contributor to cardiovascular disease, which is the biggest killer in the United States. Governments must therefore implement effective dietary policies to tackle this growing burden.”
In many areas across the country, people have limited access to fruits and vegetables. This may be because they live in low-income neighborhoods that lack grocery stores. It could be that they live in a rural area and are many miles away from the nearest grocery store. In addition to increasing access to fruits and vegetables, policies must be created to enable individuals to purchase fruits and vegetables when they do have access. In the words of Dr. Mark Creager, president of the American Heart Association, “whatever we can do to increase people’s fruit and vegetable consumption will save lives.”
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