‘Prescriptions’ for fruits and vegetables linked to lower food insecurity, better health

“Prescriptions” for fruits and vegetables are linked to lower food insecurity, better health for adults and children and improvements in certain cardiovascular health conditions, according to a new study. 

The study from the American Heart Association’s peer-reviewed journal Circulation evaluated the impact of produce prescription programs in both adults and children who have or are at risk for poor cardiometabolic health. The participants were recruited in clinics serving low-income neighborhoods. 

Participants were given a median of $63 per month to purchase produce at local stores and farmers markets for four to 10 months and were asked to complete questionaries at the beginning and end of the program about fruit and vegetable consumption, food insecurity and health status. Routine testing of blood pressure, weight, height, and hemoglobin was also conducted at both enrollment and the end of the program.  

The study found the participants’ fruit and vegetable consumption increased for both children and adults, with adults eating nearly one more cup per day while children ate around more than a quarter of a cup per day. 

The participants’ odds of being food insecure dropped by one-third after completing the produce prescription programs, the study showed.

The study also found improvements in participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressures, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI). 

“Poor nutrition and nutrition insecurity are major drivers of chronic disease globally, including cardiometabolic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and their cardiovascular consequences, including heart failure, heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Mitchell Elkind, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association. 

Elkin said it demonstrates the potential of produce prescriptions to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, reduce food insecurity and improve health measures.

The study is believed to be the largest produce prescription study so far, looking at nine programs across the U.S., the American Heart Association said. The study, however, did not include a control group to compare results.

“Future research will need to include randomized controlled trials to offset any potential bias and prove more rigorously the benefits of produce prescription programs,” Elkin said. 

The analysis included 3,881 individuals from nine programs across the country, with 2,064 adults aged 18 and older and 1,817 children aged 2-17 years.

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