Only about 10% of American adults eats the recommended daily amount of fruit or vegetables. Dietary shortfalls are even more pronounced among people in lower income groups. And the health impacts are substantial: In the US, poor diets have been linked with more than 300,000 annual deaths from heart disease and diabetes.

Produce prescriptions enable health care workers to give vouchers for free or discounted produce at grocery stores or farmers' markets to people living in low-income neighborhoods. A recent study asks whether these programs might help people at risk for heart disease eat more fruits and vegetables, and possibly improve health issues like high blood pressure. While Dr. Anne Thorndike, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies cardiometabolic disease prevention and nutrition security, questions some findings in the study, she notes that there are lessons to be learned here.

In the produce prescription program, adults ate nearly one additional cup of fruits and vegetables per day; children ate an extra quarter-cup daily. In adults, these changes were associated with lower blood pressure in people who had high blood pressure and lower blood sugar in people who had diabetes. The researchers also documented drops in body mass index (BMI) among adults with obesity.