Prescription vegetables could be the future of healthcare

According to the latest projections, healthcare spending by governments and individuals will continue to grow given rising healthcare costs and aging populations around the world. A new study concludes that healthful food prescriptions could be more cost-effective over a period of time than preventive drug treatments.

Researchers at Tufts University in the US, who analyzed the effects of including healthful food prescriptions as part of government health schemes, found that offsetting the cost of healthful foods by 30 percent through health insurance would improve health and reduce costs.

The researchers modeled two different scenarios that would play out if government health schemes covered 30 percent of healthful food purchases. In both scenarios, these programs would cover 30 percent of fruit and vegetable purchases. However, in the second scenario, they would also cover 30 percent of purchases of whole grains, nuts, seafood, and plant oils.

The findings showed that the first scenario would prevent about 1.93 million cases of heart disease, while the second one would prevent close to 3.28 million cases of heart disease as well as 120,000 cases of diabetes, mainly from the positive role that whole grains, nuts, and seeds play in diabetes prevention.

Both scenarios significantly reduced healthcare utilization, leading to savings of about $40 billion and $100 billion respectively. The total costs for subsidizing just fruits and vegetables were $122.6 billion, while it cost $210.4 billion to cover the broader range of healthful foods. Comparing the net costs with savings and health benefits, both scenarios were highly cost-effective.

“We found that encouraging people to eat healthy foods — healthy food prescriptions — through government health schemes such as Medicare and Medicaid could be more cost-effective, or at least as effective, as other common interventions, such as preventative drug treatments for hypertension or high cholesterol,” said the researchers.

The new findings support the concept of US-based public initiative, ‘Food is Medicine’, which postulates that innovative programs to encourage and reimburse healthy eating can and should be integrated into the healthcare system.