When you increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in your diet, overall heart health increases. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is directly associated with improved body mass index (BMI), blood sugar, and blood sugar levels as well as a decrease in food security.
According to research, those with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease who took part in produce prescription programs consumed more fruits and vegetables, which was linked to a lower level of food insecurity and an improvement in body mass index (BMI), blood sugar, and blood pressure.
A peer-reviewed American Heart Association publication called Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes published the study.
Produce prescriptions lay an important foundation for improved health and well-being
Programs that allow doctors to prescribe produce also allow them to prescribe drugs. Kurt Hager, Ph.D., M.S., an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts, described how patients obtain electronic cards or coupons to access free or reduced produce of their choosing at retail grocery stores or farmers’ markets.
“We know that food insecurity impacts health through several important pathways, including overall dietary quality, but also through stress and anxiety, mental health and trade-offs between paying for food and other basic needs such as housing costs, utilities, and medications,” explained study lead author Kurt Hager, Ph.D., M.S., an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Hage, completed these analyses while a doctoral student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. “These results indicate produce prescriptions may lay an important foundation for improved health and well-being.”
Participants in the study got a median monthly allowance of $63 to spend on vegetables at neighbourhood shops and farmer’s markets. Participants also went to nutrition classes. Participants filled out questionnaires at the start and end of the program, which lasted between four and ten months, and were asked about their consumption of fruits and vegetables, their access to food, and their general health. At enrolment and program completion, routine tests for blood pressure, height and weight, and haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of blood sugar, were performed. The study examined participant outcomes before and after program participation and did not include a control group.
Overall heart health improved with the intake of fruits and vegetables
Adults reported an increase in their daily intake of fruits and vegetables of almost one cup (0.85 cups). The number of fruits and vegetables consumed daily by children increased by roughly 0.26 cups on average.
Among people who had high blood pressure at study enrolment, systolic blood pressure, or the pressure during heartbeats, was reduced by more than 8 mm Hg, while diastolic blood pressure, or the pressure between heartbeats, decreased by approximately 5 mm Hg.
HbA1C readings, which are used to evaluate blood sugar, fell by 0.29 to 0.58 percentage points in persons with diabetes.
Adults with obesity saw a 0.52 kg/m2 decrease in BMI, which is a substantial improvement. However, BMI did not change in children.
Adults were 62% more likely and children were more than twice as likely to report better health status
By the end of the program, adults were 62% more likely than children to report having a better health status.
After completing the programs, participants were generally one-third less likely to experience food insecurity than they were before.
“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,” according to Mitchell Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association and a tenured professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University.
“This analysis of produce prescription programs illustrates the potential of subsidized produce prescriptions to increase consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables, reduce food insecurity, and, hopefully, improve subjective and objective health measures. Future research will need to include randomized controlled trials to offset any potential bias and prove more rigorously the benefits of producing prescription programs. The American Heart Association’s new Food Is Medicine Initiative will be focused on supporting such trials.”
Food security is important to promote well-being and prevent and treat disease
According to a 2022 American Heart Association Policy Statement: Strengthening U.S. Food Policies and Programmes to Promote Equity in Nutrition Security, poor nutrition has a significant impact on serious long-term illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
According to data from the Association, approximately 8 million fatalities were caused by poor nutrition in 2019 alone. Insufficient equal and consistent access to foods and drinks that support health and help to prevent and cure disease results in food insecurity.
The study included 2,064 adults and 1,817 children who had participated in one of the nine produce prescription programs run by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit, between 2014 and 2020. The programs were run at 22 locations in low-income neighbourhoods throughout 12 states in the United States.
All program participants either experienced food insecurity or were enrolled in a clinic that served a neighbourhood that was predominately low-income and had or were at risk of developing heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.
Adult participants’ average age was 54, and 71% of them were female. Adults’ racial/ethnic composition was broken down as follows: 30% were white adults, 45% were Black adults, 21% were Hispanic adults, and 4% were classed as “other.”
Children in the study had an average age of 9 years, were around 50% females, 9% were white children, 13% were Black children, 76% were Hispanic children, and 2% of the children’s race/ethnicity was categorized as “other.” The government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP) was used by almost two-thirds of the participants who were children.
More than half of the study’s homes said that they were suffering from food insecurity at the outset.
The lack of a control group for comparison, the high rates of missing survey data for food insecurity and data on intake of fruits and vegetables at the conclusion of some programs, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on programs that were initiated at that time were some of the analysis’s shortcomings.
Materials provided by the American Heart Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Kurt Hager, Mengxi Du, Zhongyu Li, Dariush Mozaffarian, Kenneth Chui, Peilin Shi, Brent Ling, Sean B. Cash, Sara C. Folta, Fang Fang Zhang. Impact of Produce Prescriptions on Diet, Food Security, and Cardiometabolic Health Outcomes: A Multisite Evaluation of 9 Produce Prescription Programs in the United States. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 2023; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.122.009520
American Heart Association. “Prescription for fruits, vegetables linked to better heart health, food security.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/08/230829125947.htm>.
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