Researchers at Tufts University have conducted the largest study to date on produce prescription programs, which offer free fruits and vegetables to individuals with diet-related illnesses. These programs, also known as “food as medicine” initiatives, aim to promote healthy eating and improve food security.
The study analyzed participant records from nine produce prescription programs operating across 22 sites in 12 U.S. states from 2014 to 2020. The researchers found that these programs had measurable benefits for health and food security. The data showed an increase in fruit and vegetable intake among adults, as well as improvements in clinical biomarkers of cardiometabolic health, such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
For adults with diabetes, participants saw a decrease in hemoglobin A1C levels and a decrease in body mass index among those with overweight or obesity. In patients with hypertension, blood pressure also dropped significantly. Among child participants, there were improvements in fruit and vegetable intake, food security, and self-reported health status.
The researchers recommend larger-scale implementation of these programs, particularly for lower-income adults with obesity, diabetes, or hypertension. They stress the need for clinical, policy, and healthcare provider efforts to implement produce prescription programs. However, they also acknowledge the need for further research to determine which programs are most effective, the optimal duration of these programs, and the long-term health outcomes of participants.
Overall, this study provides important evidence for the benefits of produce prescription programs, supporting the implementation of the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Other studies have also shown positive outcomes from similar programs, suggesting that these initiatives can play a crucial role in addressing diet-related diseases and improving food access for vulnerable populations.
– Tufts University: https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/study-finds-fruits-and-vegetables-prescription-programs-beneficial-health-and-food-security
– National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/