Food Prescriptions Could Save Billions

Offer a discount and prevent chronic disease, finds new data.

By Matthew Kadey, MS, RD
Aug 20, 2019

To invest in prevention, perhaps physicians should start writing scripts for broccoli as well as pharmaceuticals.

Researchers from Boston’s Tufts University reviewed data on 82 million people, ages 35–80, from the 2009–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), plus meta-analyses and published sources involving Medicare and/or Medicaid beneficiaries. Using computer models, the investigators determined that if people received prescriptions for healthy food—including whole grains, nuts and vegetables—the nation could save up to $100.2 billion in healthcare costs because there would be fewer cases of certain chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease over study participants’ lifetimes.

Prescriptions that included a 30% discount on fruits and vegetables were predicted to help prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, and slash nearly $40 billion in healthcare expenses. In other words, prescribing healthy foods and subsidizing the cost of purchasing them on a national scale through Medicare and Medicaid could be just as cost-effective in terms of overall healthcare expenses as prescribing certain drug treatments once people are already sick. Of note, the 2018 Farm Bill includes $25 million for a produce prescription pilot study.

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Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

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