Researchers have found that “prescriptions” for healthy foods could save more than $100 billion in healthcare costs. People at Tufts University made the case that subsidized fruits and vegetables could prevent millions of cases of chronic diseases. Roughly 70% of diseases in the U.S. are chronic and lifestyle-driven, according to the CDC, and nearly half of the population has one or more chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, obesity, or cancer.
It’s an expensive issue: 86% of annual healthcare costs in the U.S. are driven by chronic disease. Meanwhile, U.S. healthcare expenditures tripled in the last 50 years, from 5% of gross domestic product in 1960 to 17.9% in 2016, according to the CDC.
The study, published in the medical journal PLOS Medicine, followed adults between the ages of 35-80 who were enrolled in Medicare and/or Medicaid. It then established two scenarios: one in which Medicare/Medicaid covered the cost of 30% of fruits and vegetables, the other in which it covered fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, plant oils, and other healthy foods.
The results showed that with such subsidies, subjects rely less on healthcare. The first scenario would prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) and 350,000 deaths, as well as cut healthcare costs by $40 billion. The expanded second scenario would prevent 3.28 million cardiovascular events, 620,000 deaths, and 120,000 cases of diabetes–and save the U.S. system a whopping $100 billion.
As reported by fastcompany.com, food as medicine has been advocated across the healthcare and wellness industries. Last year, the 2018 Farm Bill included a $25 million Produce Prescription Program to fund pilot projects that institute healthier foods.