Fruits, Veggies: Just What the Doctor Is Ordering

Study finds that giving patients monthly vouchers for fresh food has an impact
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 4, 2023 11:15 AM CDT
Fruits, Veggies: Just What the Doctor Is Ordering
A worker replenishes fresh corn and vegetables grown by Riney Farms while working at the Owensboro Regional Farmers' Market on Saturday in Owensboro, Kentucky.   (Greg Eans/The Messenger-Inquirer via AP)

The old adage is "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." And some modern doctors would very much like to prescribe that apple a day to their patients. As NPR reports, a new study conducted an interesting experiment: giving "produce prescriptions" to patients who struggled with the likes of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, amounting to a voucher of an average $63 a month with which to purchase fruits and vegetables. The study, published in the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes journal, involved almost 4,000 people across 12 states who had a hard time paying for pricey produce in an era in which cheap food is often not the healthiest, and perhaps even contributes to such health conditions. What happened, per the study, which ran for about 10 months:

  • For those with hypertension: "We saw that systolic blood pressure decreased by 8mmHg and diastolic blood pressure decreased by about 5mmHg, which could have a meaningful impact on health outcomes," lead researcher Kurt Hager of the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School tells NPR.
  • For those with uncontrolled diabetes: A1C levels dropped an average of 0.6%. "The reductions we saw in blood sugar were roughly half of that of commonly prescribed medications, which is really encouraging for just a simple change in diet," says Hager.

The change was transformational for the people involved in the study. "Being able to buy healthy food, I felt like a millionaire," says Joann Erickson of Sacramento, California. Normally unable to afford healthy produce and with high blood pressure, she used her voucher to buy extravagances such as pricey berries and greens. Six months later, "I had more energy," she says, her blood sugar dropped, and her doc lowered her blood pressure medication. The problem for Erickson? The program ended, her SNAP rewards were cut, and soon she saw the positive results reverse. "After I stopped the program, I saw my blood pressure going up," she says. "I would say there's a direct correlation." "We need to get to a place where these are persistent benefits," says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, which conducted the research. "If you get put on a blood-pressure-lowering medication, you're not going to go off the medication in six months." (More produce stories.)

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