We hear it all the time. If we eat our fruits and vegetables it will help decrease our waistline and increase our overall health. However, many low-income and middle-income populations cannot afford these healthy foods, instead opting for packaged, processed foods that aren’t so good for their health. But what would happen to their health if they could afford fresh fruits and vegetables?
Researchers from Tufts University and the U.K. modeled the impact of lowering the cost of fruits and vegetables and presented their findings at the American Heart Association Epidemiology meeting this week. They found that if fruit and vegetable prices were lowered by 30%, nearly 200,000 lives would be saved over 15 years. Also important, they compared the impact of lowering prices to national campaigns that encourage fruit and vegetable consumption and found slashing prices was more impactful. The findings are from a tool they created called the U.S. IMPACT Food Policy Model tool. It projects the change in fruit and vegetable consumption through 2030 under the effects of different food policies, which informs future cardiovascular death rates. The model gives insight into how great of an impact change in prices can have on people’s health.
In public health, price change has been used before with tobacco taxes considered to be a huge success for health. More recently, the debate has centered on sugary beverage tax. Although New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg pushed for the tax and the idea received a ton of media attention, it was ultimately blocked by a judge. So far in the U.S., Berkeley, CA is the only city to have such a tax on soda. Mexico also enacted a tax on soda in 2013, which equated to be about a 10% increase in the price. While it is too early to tell the long-term health impacts, so far the tax seems to be working to decrease consumption, especially for low-income consumers. The tax on cigarettes and soda has been highly controversial, with the tobacco and soda industry pushing back and people accusing the government of controlling their choices. However, policies to reduce prices for healthy items could be an easier sell to the American public and big businesses only concerned with profit. Policies to make fruits and vegetables and other healthy items affordable is likely more feasible and perhaps just as impactful.