A 10% fruit and vegetable subsidy can save lives, new study finds

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Fruit and vegetable subsidies can literally save lives, according to researchers at the University of Liverpool, who analysed how different food policy models may reduce deaths caused by cardiovascular disease in the US.

“Suboptimal diet is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, death, and health disparities. Dietary policies have the potential to reduce this burden,” the researchers hypothesized in their study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

They used probabilistic analyses on five policy scenarios, and found that among the five, a fruit and vegetable subsidy of 10% was most beneficial among the non-combination scenarios, postponing an estimated 150,500 cardiovascular deaths by 2030 in the US.

“The findings of this study have important implications for crafting specific price and incentive policy approaches to optimize access to fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of sugar sweetened beverages,” Dr. Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, a co-author of the study, said in a statement from the university.

The socio-economic disparity

In addition to the 10% subsidy, the other scenarios they looked at included: Mass media campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, a national tax increase to sugar-sweetened beverage prices by 10%, a SNAP-specific subsidy to reduce fruits and vegetable prices by 30%, and a combination of all four policies above.

Isolating demographics under the Supplemental Nutrtion Assistance Program (SNAP) was an important factor in addressing the link between socio-economic disparity and mortality in the US.

“There are approximately 21.6 million SNAP participant households (involving 44.5 million individual adults and children) nationwide and a further 20.9 million eligible but not participating in SNAP,” they wrote. “Significant disparities in CVD mortality exist, with baseline aggregate age-standardised mortality more than 50% higher in SNAP participants compared to SNAP-ineligible adults.”

Policy as a health solution

From sugar-sweetened beverage taxes to mass media campaigns, the scenarios analysed by the researchers are examples of movements happening in pockets in the US.

More US cities are growing sweet on the soda tax solution. The November 2016 ballot brought in a spike to the number of US cities with soda levies, when Bay Area cities of Albany, Oakland, and San Francisco, as well as Boulder, CO, joined Berkeley, CA and Philadelphia, which passed their soda taxes before the election. (Santa Fe voters rejected a similar tax last month).

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America, backed by former First Lady Michelle Obama, is continuing its start-studded FNV campaign, which features celebrities and children eating fruits and vegetables. A survey conducted by the nonprofit found that retailers who brought the campaign in-store reported a measureable rise in produce sales.

“Policies effectively increasing fruit and vegetable consumption or reducing sugar sweetened beverage consumption might powerfully reduce cardiovascular disease mortality and disparities,” said Dr. Piotr Bandosz, a co-author of the study from the University of Liverpool and the Medical University of Gdansk. “Furthermore, a combination of these policies could be even more powerful.”

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